Newberry and Sparks aren’t competing in a quiz show in Argentina; they’ll face beach volleyball teams from around the world that have played together for far longer than they have.
There’s no guarantee that Devon Newberry and Lindsey Sparks will medal for the United States at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires next month.
But count on them reveling in the opportunity, pushing to tap their individual and collective potential and embracing every moment together.
The latter point is, uh, no exaggeration.
Newberry and Sparks jokingly refer to one another as “wifey,” spending virtually every waking moment together at tournaments in Cuba and China. They share a room, eat and train together and even finish each other’s sentences.
“It’s a whole back and forth, where we love to be around each other,” Newberry says. “We’re around each other all the time, and it’s never annoying. It’s just always love.”
Partners for a year and a half, the two insist they know each other so well they agree to take a test.
They knew the other’s binge television shows (Jersey Shore for Newberry, Gossip Girls for Sparks), dream vacation destinations and had only a slight difference in naming of a favorite athlete.
Asked Sparks’ favorite meal, Newberry forgets the dish name but explains that it’s sticky rice wrapped in banana leafs.
“There’s no way that she said that!” Sparks incredulously says. “You are lying!”
But Newberry and Sparks aren’t competing in a quiz show in Argentina; they’ll face beach volleyball teams from around the world that have played together for far longer than they have.
That’s not necessarily a disadvantage, says their Team USA coach, Ali Wood Lamberson.
“They’re very different from each other,” Wood Lamberson says, “but they balance each other well.”
Sparks grew up near Huntington Beach, learning from her parents who excelled in beach volleyball. Defense and ball control are her strengths.
Newberry grew up playing indoor volleyball and was highly-recruited by programs near and far because she’s an explosive athlete with what Wood Lamberson describes as a “cannon for an arm.”
“It’s been impressive how it’s all coming together,” Wood Lamberson says of the pairing.
In the championship game to lock up the one and only Youth Olympic Games spot, Newberry and Sparks defeated their opponents, 21-18, 28-26. Newberry fondly recalls a picture of them celebrating their YOG spot, where both are hugging and smiling. Newberry admittedly didn’t know too much about the Youth Olympic Games, but she knows it’s hard to earn a qualifying spot.
“Every athlete who competes there dreams of going to the Olympics,” she says, “so something to get you closer is something special not many people get to (experience).”
Added Sparks, “I think it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever had a chance to be a part of.”
During the summer, the two worked hard on their power game and competed in some AVP Tour events. Their best finish was 17th at Hermosa Beach.
“It worked out so perfectly, to see our progress,” Newberry says. “You could tell we really improved.”
Wood Lamberson says what makes Newberry and Sparks so successful as a team is their communication.
“It’s so easy, when you’re coming up in this two-person sport, to blame mistakes on the partner, or internalize mistakes and feel your partner is blaming you,” says Wood Lamberson, a longtime pro beach volleyball player. “They’ve really, really worked on their communication to get beyond that.”
But Sparks says their partnership works so well because they have the same goal.
“It was all about China, China, China!” Sparks says, referring to the FIVB Beach Volleyball U-19 World Championships in July. “When you have one common goal, I think everything else comes together.”
Besides, Sparks says their personalities do mesh well, especially considering how she sees some other teams interacting.
“We complement each other, and we both can take crap from each other, and know it’s about volleyball,” Sparks says. “Sometimes in the girls’ game, things are taken personally.”
But the pairing is approaching an unavoidable conflict.
After the YOG, Sparks will be a freshman at UCLA, where she’ll play beach volleyball. Newberry, meanwhile, has verbally committed to play beach volleyball at UCLA ... but she’s a high school senior and will immediately jump into her final indoor volleyball season.
Asked about the prospect of not playing with Sparks, Newberry jokingly says, “No, we’re never getting divorced!”
The honeymoon may be long over, but the two are excited to journey together to Argentina and represent their country.
“I want to dip my toe in the water, and see how it goes,” Newberry says. “Everyone loves Americans at the events, but they want to beat us so bad.”