Larnaka, Cyprus, July 25, 2014 - Beach volleyball has always been his destiny, although Hagen Smith’s famous father Sinjin wanted him to play tennis. So this week 19-year old Hagen took the next step and made his FIVB debut at the U21 World Championships in Larnaka, Cyprus.
Christopher St. John ‘Sinjin’ played in more beach volleyball events than any other player. He finished 5th at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996, won two World Championships, ten FIVB events and was crowned FIVB World Tour champion four times. He named his oldest son Hagen after his first partner, Ron van Hagen.
“He did not push me to play volleyball”, said Hagen. “It’s just I was around it all the time. So it was almost destiny. He really wanted me to play tennis, but I stuck to volleyball. And I surf a lot too. Right now I am down to surfing and volleyball. It’s a balance between the two. I love surfing because it’s a totally different sport.”
It also gives him mental clarity, which makes him play better volleyball. Hagen is in his second year at UCLA, the same university his dad went to. He plays college volleyball as libero and setter. In the summer he switches to beach volleyball. Unlike the girls there is no college beach volleyball programme for boys. “They only have funding for the girls side.”
“But I like both, it’s like playing two sports. When indoor is ending I am excited to play beach, which I have not played in a long time. And the same goes for beach. After a long beach season I get to go to indoor. But if I had to chose between the two, I would probably pick beach because I have more control of the game, cause it’s just two players instead of six.”
The 19-year old student would like to follow in his father’s foot steps. “That would be pretty nice. Depending on how I keep growing as an athlete and the opportunities that are put in front of me. I think a professional athlete would be awesome.”
He experienced from up close what the life of professional beach volleyball player looks like. “When I was younger we went all over. It got to go to all these places. Cause he took all of us everywhere in the beginning, even to Europe. At one point we were in Europe for three months, hitting different places to go for him to train and play. I was with him the whole time. I love the volleyball scene, I am totally enwrapped in it.”
Although he was still young at the time, Hagen has some fond memories of their travels. “One of the places I really liked was Norway. I remember that after every game in Norway whether my dad won or lost my mom would let us run onto the court right after the game and we would jump up and hug him. And no matter what happened he always greeted us nicely. It was a really cool experience for a young kid.”
“And now it’s cool that I get to travel to these places that I went with my dad, on the AVP and in Europe.” Sinjin, now 57, helps out wherever he can. “Whenever I can get him out to coach me, he helps coach us. And I always go to him with questions and if he has any inside for me he will tell me. His best advice? Side-out every time!”
Like his father Hagen is a defence player. “I don’t know if we have the same style of play. Maybe on the defensive side, but I am still growing as a player. I think I might jump a little bit higher than him, so he says.”
At the U21 World Championships Hagen is coached by one of his father’s former opponents and another beach volleyball legend: Brazil’s José Loiola. Although surrounded by all this beach volleyball knowledge, Hagen and his partner Christopher Orenic lost two out of three matches so far.
“It’s a tough pool definitely. There are some good teams in it”, Hagen said about his opponents from Brazil, Latvia, Australia, Spain and Mexico. “But we still got two more games and we are going to push hard to win those two and hopefully after that we will be able to advance.”
Friday morning Smith and Orenic showed some fighting spirit against Mexico’s Jurado/Cardenas. They lost the first set, fought back in the second warding off three Mexican match points and even had three set points themselves, but had to let go in the end, losing 21-11, 26-24.
“Our heads weren’t in the game in the beginning, we weren’t entirely there. We didn’t have a good warm-up. We weren’t playing at all to our potential”, Hagen said about the game. “But we still got two more games and we are going to push really hard to win those two. And hopefully after that we are able to advance.”
Spreading the beach volleyball
Overall the U21 World Champs are a great experience. “It’s pretty cool. It’s a whole different level of competition. It’s pretty much the best from every nation that they can offer up for our age group.”
“And it’s cool to see the development and progress of other nations. I really like how they are trying to spread the sport to every corner of the world. They have the African teams out here even. Even though they are not the greatest, they are learning and it’s great to have beach volleyball in all the corners of the world.”