BONAIRE — Kyle Friend knew, in his heart, that he was a defender. Even while he was playing his first two years of AVP qualifiers and main draw as a blocker for Myles Muagututia, he knew his future was not at the net, but behind someone who was at the net.

He had played outside hitter in college and professionally overseas, mixing in spots at libero here and there. There was no question in his mind that defense was his route.

But how?

“You don’t just say ‘I’m a defender, someone really good come pick me up,’” he said on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.

He said this, of course, as a defender, after a career year despite it being his first playing defense. He said this after a top tier blocker, Duncan Budinger, had picked him up for the season, and then another, Paul Lotman, scooped him for the final event in Hawai’i. He said this after training as a defender with the USA Volleyball national teams, picking the minds of Reid Priddy, Taylor Crabb, Rich Lambourne, Tyler Hildebrand.

Yes, Kyle Friend is very much a defender.

“For me, it was ‘What am I going to learn every match, every tournament, as a defender?’” Friend said. “I think I’m slowly getting better just evaluating the game, the chess game, the in-game decision making slowly increased. As a blocker, you have control in the sense of you can put up this great block, you can make these great angles, but an attacker can just go ‘Oh, I see you there, I’m going to shoot it over you.’ Then as defense it’s ‘That’s my job.’

“There’s a little more weight carried as a defender. In the beginning of the year, to where I am now, my knowledge as a defender has increased dramatically. Evaluating my year, yes, I want more, I wanted to qualify more, but it’s exciting. I’m taking the right steps. I’m in the right position. As a first-year defender, I’m happy.”

Kyle Friend and partner Travis Mewhirter celebrate a big point when they qualified in La Paz, Mexico, for this week’s NORCECA in Bonaire.

As he should be. He made five main draws, two more than he did in 2018 as a blocker. He took a ninth, his second career top-10 finish. He took sets off of Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb twice, including the first tournament of the year, in Huntington Beach. He won a silver in his first international event, a NORCECA in La Paz, Mexico.

And now he has one final event in this 2019 season, another NORCECA, in Bonaire. It took us nearly 26 hours to get there, but he and I made it. He made it for his final tournament of the season, his rookie year as a defender.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. “I don’t know if it will really sink in until I leave here. I haven’t really flipped that switch yet. I’m still a little hungry.”

Hungry for one more shot at a win.