HERMOSA BEACH — Chase Budinger sat at a table in the athletes area of the AVP Pro Series Hermosa Beach Open on Saturday afternoon with his playing partner, Troy Field, and their coach, Mike Campbell.
They had just been eliminated from the tournament after losing in straight sets to Trevor Crabb and Tri Bourne, the top seed in the men’s bracket. Budinger and Field lost Friday to the 42-year-old duo of Phil Dalhausser and Casey Patterson to set up a must-win scenario Saturday.
For around an hour, the three huddled — like an NBA team holding a team meeting after a loss. Budinger, in his fifth season as a professional volleyball player after playing seven seasons in the NBA, is no stranger to adjusting after a defeat at the highest level.
Just because Budinger, 34, traded the hardwood for the sand and ocean breeze doesn’t mean his desire to win has dwindled, even in the slightest.
Budinger made no qualms on Saturday about his immediate goal: Make the Olympics in beach volleyball in 2024.
“I think every year, I’ve been getting better as a player,” Budinger said. “I do believe I’m one of the top U.S. players out here.”
Budinger’s first career win came in 2019 at Hermosa Beach with Patterson. The duo notched two more wins in 2021 before Budinger switched partners to Field.
“I think this next Olympic period of the next two and half years, I’m really going to make a big push and really dedicate myself to going for it,” Budinger said.
Campbell, who also coaches the beach volleyball program at Long Beach State, believes Budinger has a chance. With Dalhausser and Jake Gibb, 46, well into their forties, Campbell said there is a vacancy at a blocker position.
“Chase is competitive and he wants to try to push himself and everyone around him,” Campbell said. “He’s almost a perfectionist.”
Campbell said he’s tried to help Budinger feel more in rhythm with the game, such as alternating the angle of attack and trying new swings so that he is less predictable to opponents.
Budinger has improved as a partner, a learning curve in beach volleyball because he is working with just one other person with no substitutes as opposed to a five-member team in basketball, according to Campbell.
On the flipside, the high stakes that come with a 21-point beach volleyball set do not faze Budinger.
“Just the pressure he played with in the NBA translates real well here,” Campbell said. “Every play is a pressure play.”
Budinger has also brought over the scouting mindset from the NBA to beach volleyball, something that his partner, Field, appreciates. Field said few beach volleyball players talk about finding an opponents’ tendencies and taking that away — a commonality in basketball.
“It’s something for me, just being a beach volleyball player, it’s helped me look at games and helped me prep,” Field said. “So I’ve really appreciated his background in basketball.”
The pair joke whenever one of them makes a mistake during practice and have an upcoming film session: “Shoot, that’s going to be on the film.”
Budinger, who grew up in Encinitas and now lives and trains in Hermosa Beach, is becoming more comfortable on the sand. He was a standout in both basketball and volleyball at La Costa Canyon High School, but chose to play basketball collegiately at Arizona.
Al Lau, the CEO of the AVP, has noticed a definite improvement in Budinger.
“Obviously, playing at the NBA level, his athleticism is obviously here like in the top 1 percent of who plays beach volleyball,” Lau said. “Having the ability to play volleyball this often and this with this kind of regularity, you can see the difference now.”
Budinger, who last played in the NBA in the 2015-16 season with the Phoenix Suns, still watches the league “religiously.” He admits he misses the lifestyle and the team camaraderie.
What he doesn’t miss is the grind of an 82-game schedule on the body and the lack of family time. Budinger married his wife, Jessica last year. A few weeks ago, the couple had their first child, a baby boy named Beckham who they brought with them to experience the Hermosa Beach Open.
As much as giving up basketball at the age of 28 may have been a tough decision, Budinger has nothing to complain about now.
“Being a beach volleyball player, the lifestyle is the best,” Budinger said. “I get to bike to work. I get to come down to the beach. Just be out in the sunshine.”
Day 2 results
Half of the semifinal participants are confirmed ahead of Sunday’s last day of action at Hermosa Beach.
On the men’s side, the duo of Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander will face the winner of the contender’s bracket match between Casey Patterson and Phil Dalhausser and Jeremy Allen and Jeremy Casebeer.
In the other semifinal, the pairing of Paul Lotman and Miles Partain will play the winner between Hagen Smith and Jake Dietrich and Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner.
For the women, top-seeded Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil will face the winner of the elimination match between Sara Hughes and Kelley Kolinske and Larissa Maestrini and Liliane Maestrini.
And Kelly Cheng and Betsi Flint, in the second semifinal, will take on the winner between Zana Muno and Lauren Fendrick and Geena Urango and Julia Scoles.