What the two started together, they will end together.
Both from the city of Flagstaff, Nick Bowling and Shane Miller will play their final professional beach volleyball matches of their respective careers Thursday in the Huntington Beach Open at Huntington Beach Pier, California.
"I wanted one last event, and who better to play it with than the guy I started the whole thing with all those years ago," said Bowling, who turned 39 on April 11.
After competing against each other during their high school years as crosstown rivals and again in club volleyball at Flagstaff Athletic Club, the two joined forces and reached the professional level in 2006.
Now, after several years of playing with different partners, Bowling, a Flagstaff High grad, and Miller, Coconino High grad, will take their final swings at the pro level. The pair starts the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) event today in the men's qualification tournament. They'll go to the net looking to accomplish a feat they've not yet aced.
"I am extremely excited to play with him. Since we are both from Flagstaff, we get to represent our hometown together one last time. We hadn't played together for six or seven years but decided that since I will be 40 next year we would like to give it one more shot at qualifying for the main draw," said Bowling, who in 2006 garnered a top-four finish at USA Volleyball's National Championship in the highest men's division. "That is something we never got to do in the AVP and it was always a dream for both of us."
SANDS OF TIME
In October of 2006, Miller, tired of playing at the amateur level, convinced the EVP Corona Light Tournament director to let the duo play up. They faced a team consisting of the defending tourney champion and tour MVP in their first match at the higher level.
Bowling and Miller fell in two sets, 21-18, 21-16, but ended up taking seventh place and winning some money.
"This tournament and getting to go out one last time will be the highlight of my career," Bowling said. "Especially since all of our Olympians from Rio are playing in this event."
Despite putting up the block on his pro career, Bowling, a longtime Flagstaff volleyball figure, can't imagine not having sand between his toes in the future. So, he plans to keep on with his coaching.
Bowling, who currently is a coach for the successful RPM Sand club, coached indoor at Coconino High and Sinagua when it was a high school, and was the founder and first head coach of the Flagstaff High Eagles sand volleyball varsity team. He has also coached several club indoor teams.
"I genuinely enjoyed being a part of the community in Flagstaff and working with the youth there," said Bowling, who currently lives in the Valley and teaches Spanish at Sandra Day O'Connor High School. "Shane coached with me there at Sinagua High School before he moved to Boise, Idaho. Now that I am working with RPM Sand and we have had 20-plus athletes and every senior we have graduated go on to play Division I collegiate volleyball, I am excited to get to continue that."
When he's not competing this weekend, he'll be keeping an eye on the players he coached who are competing on the big beach courts.
"We have six players playing in the NCAA beach national championships this weekend also," he said.
Always the competitor who brings a bright smile to the net, Bowling said he'll miss parts of competing as a pro.
"I will miss the atmosphere of competition at a high level. I will miss the friendships I have made through it and I will miss the feeling of laying everything I have out there win or lose," Bowling said.
All the wiser with age, Bowling has some advice for the athletes with whom he has worked -- or will work.
"It doesn't matter if you live in the middle of the desert in Phoenix or the small mountain town of Flagstaff; if you want it badly enough, go for it, work for it, don't ever give up on your dreams," he said.