“You’ll qualify early and often my friend.”

That’s what Chaim Schalk told me after a January practice one day. Skyler McCoy and I had played well against him and Trevor Crabb. It felt nice to hear, even if the AVP season was still five months out.

Yet after AVP New York City, where I lost in my very first match, it was important to note one omission from Schalk: He did not write that I’d qualify every single time, just that I would qualify early (I did) and regularly (to be determined).

Billy Allen and Trevor Crabb and Tri Bourne each told me I’d qualify this year, though not a single one promised that I would do so every time, for they’ve seen the qualifiers, they’ve been through the crucible.

They know better.

Billy once bought a bunch of food and drinks to a qualifier and, like me in New York, lost in his first match. Taylor Crabb lost in his first match in New Orleans in 2015, and then made the semifinals of the Manhattan Beach Open that very same year.

Such is the nature of beach volleyball.

It didn’t make it any easier to swallow, of course. Nothing does. But it did assure me in knowing that players far better than I have done the same. All I can do is take a look at what went wrong – and plead with others to look at the film and let me know, from their view, what went wrong – and fix those things.

Which is why I turned down a few offers from players I wouldn’t be able to practice with prior to Seattle. I believe, though of course can’t know, that Shane Donohue and I would have a much different story to tell had we practiced only two or three times prior to New York. But we didn’t. We set each other five or six times on a grassy section of a park 15 minutes prior to our match and went into it.

And then we got aced down our seam maybe eight times, had a number of miscommunications on defense, mixed up a few sets – and just like that we lost in our first match despite being, on paper, a solid mesh as partners.

None of those miscues were anybody’s fault directly, though a number certainly skewed far more in my direction. It’s just what happens when you don’t know who goes where, who takes what, if you switch on a back set, if you like your outside side dying inside the pin or floating out, if you prefer tight sets in transition or a little room off the net.

I don’t mean to compare myself or Shane to the Golden State Warriors, but they initially struggled after adding Kevin Durant, just as the Cleveland Cavaliers did with Isaiah Thomas, the Oklahoma City Thunder with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, the Miami Heat with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

On paper, every single one of those teams were improved with those additions, just as I know Shane and I could be an excellent beach volleyball team together. Yet they all struggled, because in sports these things take time.

You remember LeBron, Wade and Bosh’s introductory press conference – “Not four, not five, not six…”

And then they lost in the finals to the Mavericks, which preceded one of the more dynastic runs in NBA history.

Shane and I didn’t have the wiggle room of an 82-game season – or five of them – and playoffs. We had one match against a solid team who could very well have beat us had we practiced together anyway. My first practice with Raffe Paulis was nightmarish – and then we practiced and practiced and practiced, worked out the kinks and qualified in Austin.

My first practice with Shane was a three-set public audition and we lost.

Which is why Tri Bourne’s first point of feedback after watching the film was to find someone I can produce chemistry with before jumping into a qualifier. So I did, picking up Gabe Ospina, a quick and physical defender with whom I’ll be able to practice five or six times prior to Seattle.

It isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing. It could save an ace seam or five. It could save an easy transition switch.

Add those up and it could save a match.

Or it couldn’t.

There are no guarantees, not now, not ever, especially in sports.

All I know is that now subtle miscommunications are in my control, and maybe shoring those up is the difference between only qualifying early and also qualifying often.

Seattle’s in less than two weeks.

New York was a bummer, and it was rough, and I sulked and threw a hell of a pity party, downing Hell or High Watermelons as I watched my friends qualify instead. But I know the only way I can improve upon such a disappointing and frustrating finish is to do what far superior players before me have done – fix what they can, control what they can control, dig into the film, find the vulnerabilities, shore them up.

Move on.

Move forward.

Take another shot.

Then do it again.