Hagen Smith offered me his tank top, or what was left of it, at least, and asked if I’d like to rip something. He’d already done most of the job, tearing it clean in half, leaving the last bit for his partner for AVP Hermosa, in case I needed to let a little bit of rage out.

He literally saved a bit of his shirt just for me to rip.

After two practices and three full days of grind-it-out, hug-it-out volleyball, it was without a doubt our most adorable moment as partners.

But the whole rip the shirt thing – that’s just not really how I roll.

I don’t get super angry after bad losses or performances. I get introspective, despondent, quiet. I think. I replay every point, mostly the bad ones, wondering why this went wrong and that went borderline tragic.

That Saturday morning in Hermosa Beach – my first Saturday, playing for my career-best finish – on stadium court, which was surprisingly somewhat filled, with my family watching on Amazon Prime, I had crumbled like a saltine.

Chase Frishman served me off the court. The few I did pass, Troy Field happily threw back down. The few I did pass and got over Troy’s block, I hit out of bounds, or directly to Chase.

We lost the first set, 21-9.


AVP Hermosa-Travis Mewhirter-Troy Field

2018 Hermosa Beach Open
Hermosa Beach Pier
Hermosa Beach, CA
Credit: Robert Beck

I can’t recall the last time I failed to score double-digits in a set. Even against Billy Allen and Ryan Doherty in Austin, running on a few hours’ sleep, playing on legs that were twice as tired as they were in Hermosa, I had hit the teens in both sets. Not that it matters. A loss is a loss is a loss, no matter how close the score.

But in an athlete’s head, the score very much matters. It was an ass-beating, a waxing, a pasting – whatever you want to call it, it was that.

I even told Hagen that it was no different than if we had lost 21-19. But it wasn’t. It was actually sort of convenient that they had played the best volleyball of their new partnership while I had played the worst of mine. Even if I had played my best – what was left of it, anyway, after six matches and 15 sets at that point – I’m not sure we would have won. Hagen’s father, Sinjin, sat with us after the match, which we’d lose, 21-9, 21-17, said if there’s a guy serving like Chase was, “whatever.”

Let ‘em have it.

It’s unsustainable.

And it was. Chase finally missed a few and took the gas off a few others. The three trickle aces they had in the first weren’t there in the second. We hung the entire set, going side out for side out, until Troy blocked me to go up 19-16 rather than 18-17. A monumental difference, especially with the score freeze.

And after a long freeze, where Hagen and I battled and grinded and scrambled, as per our style, we couldn’t hold on any longer.

Troy bounced one into the stands and that was it. My weekend was over.

I sat in the box for a while after Hagen tore the rest of his tank top and left. I should have been ecstatic. Really, I should have. Here I was, playing into the weekend for the first time of my young career. Here I was, less than 24 hours removed from landing what would finish as the biggest upset of the tournament, a 23-21, 15-21, 16-14 epic over the McKibbin brothers. Here I was, finishing main draw with a .500 record, 2-2 in the main and 5-2 on the weekend.

Really, I should have been stoked.

I pouted.

Travis Mewhirter-AVP Hermosa

Kind of. I couldn’t pout too long. For everywhere I went, there were people telling me what a phenomenal tournament we had. Jeff Conover shook my hand, told me great job, excellent weekend. Sinjin sat down with us, and when he came over, I looked down sheepishly and said “My bad, man,” because, if we’re being honest, it was.

Sinjin replied “No, not your bad. You guys had a great tournament.”

Sinjin F’n Smith said we had a great tournament?

Maybe I should listen to that guy.

Delaney Knudsen, too, was positively beatific – she’s always positively beatific – congratulating me on making a Saturday – a Saturday!! A year ago, I hadn’t made it past 3 p.m. on Thursday.

Tim Bomgren and Chaim Schalk congratulated me, too, in the player’s tent, and Billy Allen a few days later.

Everyone was stoked for me, except, it seemed, me.

Billy wrote a similar blog post the other day, how he took a second, his best finish of the season, on the biggest stage of the season, yet he left feeling empty, unsatisfied, at a loss. He, too, had the best tournament of the year, capped with the hardest loss of the year.

A strange dichotomy only athletes can know.

A dichotomy I’m beginning to get familiar with.

Only one team ends the weekend on a win. Just one. One-hundred and 19 others leave feeling similar to how Billy and I did.

Ed Ratledge summed it up well on Monday afternoon: “Expectations,” he said, “are the thief of joy.”

For some arrogant reason, on Saturday morning, I expected to take a ninth. I expected to take a ninth despite never having done so. I expected to make a Saturday afternoon despite never having made a Saturday morning. I expected to win three main draw matches despite never having won one prior to the weekend.

Had I beat Chase and Troy on Saturday morning, I’d probably have expected four.

And the joy would have been robbed again by those thieves we call expectations.

Travis Mewhirter-Hagen Smith-AVP Hermosa

Not that I pouted for long. How could I? My office – my freaking office – that weekend was Hermosa Beach. I reported “to work” at 7:30 to get a massage, listen to music and stretch near the ocean, warm up to go play a sport in front of hundreds – dare I say thousands? – of people there to watch, either in person or on Amazon Prime, me play a sport. In some cases, some of those people even paid American dollars to watch me play that sport. On a beach.

And I got paid to do it?

Are you kidding me?

Is that real life?

Is that my life?

Slowly, yes, that’s becoming my reality, and that’s sort of insane to me. But it can only be a reality by doing the same thing I’ve done these past few years: digging into those losses, dissecting what went wrong, then training in the ugliest way possible by focusing on everything that went wrong, sucking at it until I suck a little less, and a little less, until maybe I reduce the sucking enough that I can take a ninth. Then a seventh. Then a fifth.

Then a Sunday.

Then late on a Sunday.

Such is the process.

That’s how these things go. The windshield has to be bigger than the rearview, because there’s so much more ahead than what’s behind. For me, there’s hardly anything behind, just two main draws, a pair of main draw wins, one bigger than the other. And a lot of losses, which is another way of saying a lot of learning moments.

The funny thing is, I’ve already eclipsed every goal I’ve set for the year. Technically, I’m playing on house money. I wanted to make a small draw and a big draw this year. I wanted to make a Saturday. I wanted to upset an automatic main draw team.

Check check check.

But expectations change. I think it’s necessary for them to, for without expectations, without goals, what, exactly, are you doing? Expectations might be a thief of joy, but complacency is the thief of accomplishment, of pushing, of giving you reason to feel that joy at all, and I’ve never felt such a rush of joy as when that final ball went down and we upset the McKibbins.

Now I want to take a ninth. Nah. Screw that. I’d like to take a seventh. I want to beat a higher seed than the McKibbins, and a higher one after that. And yeah, when I fall short – and I will, because that’s life – I’ll be bummed. I’ll pout.

And then I’ll be reminded, many times, likely, of all the joy and incomprehensible blessings around me. They’re not so hard to find.

We’re at the beach.

We’re at the office.