Kim DiCello was never a bad teammate, same as she has never been a bad co-worker, a bad wife, a bad anything, really. But she did have her moments where “I was this intense, fierce competitor,” she said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “Not angry, but a little feisty. Without meaning to, I probably gave a couple stare-downs here and there, just having that fierceness, that edge.”

She didn’t think it would change when her son, Luca, would be born. She’d still be the same person. Same interests. Same passions. Same competitive, feisty spirit.

“After having the baby, oh my gosh, this flipped,” she said. “All of a sudden I have this softness, this sweetness, this tenderness that I had no idea was in me. I don’t think anything else could have pulled it out other than having a baby. All of a sudden there’s this gentleness, this patience, this calmness.

“I firmly believe those qualities make me a better person and in being a better person I can leverage those to being a better teammate and an athlete and competing at a higher level. I think it’s going to require reworking and figuring out how these pieces all work together now.”

The timing of DiCello’s words couldn’t be better. Her focus on being a teammate, in a sport that is often viewed as an individual pursuit, seems an anachronism. The women’s side, after just two AVP tournaments this season, has been shaken up and shuffled and thrown into a blender, spitting out dozens of new teams, products of former ones that weren’t entirely unsuccessful but left something to be desired. DiCello was one of them, having split, not by choice, with Katie Spieler after two finishes.

Which isn’t to say that all of those breakups didn’t have their fair and justifiable reasons. Spieler, for instance, is going to Brittany Howard, a close friend and roommate, who became available after a split with Kelly Reeves, with whom she played for a year and a half. Howard, at 24 and still relatively new to the beach game, has all the upside in the world. It’s easy to see the logic behind Spieler’s move, just as it’s typically easier to see the logic behind any partnership move.

DiCello just thinks that sometimes these moves come too quick, that beach is a world of instant gratification rather than longterm gains in terms of partnerships.

“I really love the team dynamic in our sport,” DiCello said. “The value I get out of the experience of being on a team is so great, and it can be frustrating and challenging but I welcome those frustrations and challenges because through them you develop these really strong connections with the people you compete with. And I’m still really close with Lane [Carico] and Emily [Stockman] and Kendra [Van Zwieten], the partners I’ve competed with the last few years.

“It’s a relationship that’s different from the relationships you’ll have with anyone else because you battle together and you’ve been through those good times and bad times and they’ve seen you at your best and they’ve seen you at your worst.

“I want this in all areas in my life. I want to bring out the best in my husband. I want to bring out the best in my little boy. Doing it on the volleyball court is just another space where I get to do that.”

It’s possible that this mindset is a large reason why DiCello has been able to succeed with such a variety of partners. With Carico, who is also a new mother, she finished 13th but also made four semifinals. With Stockman, she finished 17th but also made a final. With Van Zwieten, she finished ninth and fifth twice but also won her first AVP and made at least the semifinals in seven others.

The lows often precede the highs, so long as you can stick it out long enough to see the final product.