Advance on Extreme Volleyball Professionals Tour -- Saturday in Chicago.
By beach volleyball standards, Rachel Malmborg’s prime playing days are ahead of her.
That doesn’t mean the 24-year-old Malmborg, a newbie on the Extreme Volleyball Professionals Tour, isn’t trying to outmaneuver her older opponents.
For Malmborg, a second-year EVP player and a 2001 graduate of Lincoln-Way High School, it’s a challenging task, considering the knowledge for the game the veterans possess.
“As far as strategy goes, they are a lot smarter,” Malmborg said. “They know how to play mind games, basically. All they have to do is be smart with their shots.”
In the meantime, Malmborg is concentrating on moving up the EVP points ladder. Through eight events, she’s accumulated 84 points, highlighted by three top-five finishes, including a second-place finish with partner Jeanie Valiquet on June 9 in O’Fallon, Mo. With leader Leanne Haarbauer at 159 points, Malmborg believes she “can be up there a little more.”
There will be no better time for Malmborg to display her skills than during the three upcoming events at Chicago’s North Avenue Beach. The EVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour will make its first stop in Chicago on Saturday. (Additional dates are July 7 and Aug. 11.) The tour season covers 22 national stops.
“I like the feel of North Avenue,” Malmborg said. “The sand itself is not too deep and not too shallow. And just being there in my hometown with a lot of familiar faces ... .”
EVP Tour commissioner Ross Balling said spectators can expect to see the top 24 men’s and women’s teams compete Saturday in the main draw. Balling added that fans who travel to North Avenue Beach will be treated to a great experience.
“Our tour allows athletes to get into close games all the time,” Balling said.
After a successful four-year collegiate career at Birmingham Southern, where she holds the all-time career kills record, Malmborg played volleyball on social tours. But when she was introduced to the EVP Tour, she “picked and prodded and asked if I could play, too.”
She sought a sponsor and eventually got Sinkorswim.com to cover her travel expenses. Even though Malmborg admits volleyball makes for a good side gig — she works as an account manager in online sales for Career Builder during the week — life on the EVP Tour has its ups and downs.
“You’re always on the go, living out of a suitcase,” she said. “You see a lot of different places, even though a lot of us are only there on the weekends. Being able to play fresh when you’ve had to go a whole work week is challenging, so you have to be mentally and physically ready to play all day.”
Malmborg plays with a handful of on-court partners in order to see what works best. That, she said, has helped develop her skills on the beach.
“If you’re playing with someone shorter, you need to be a better blocker,” Malmborg said. “If you’re playing with someone taller, you need to pick up your defense.”
As Malmborg, who wants to win at least one event this season, tries to obtain some of the wisdom that powers the veterans, Balling offers some advice.
“Young athletes have to train (in beach volleyball) more than they play,” Balling said. “If you don’t train, you don’t have the confidence to win close games.”
When fans gather around center court at North Avenue Beach, Malmborg just hopes it’s her they will be watching — extra wisdom or not.
IF YOU GO
What: Corona Light EVP Men’s and Women’s Pro Tour
Where: North Avenue Beach, 1600 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
When: Start time is 7 a.m. Saturday.
Tickets: General admission is free. An EVP Tour “A Day At The Beach” pass is $29. For more information, call (773) 387-1198.
More volleyball coverage can be found online at www.dailysouthtown.com/sports.