While the lives of almost everyone feel like they are paused because of the pandemic, Fort Wayne's Angie (Harris) Akers has received an incredible opportunity to move up in the beach volleyball world.
The former Bishop Luers basketball and volleyball star who still holds 10 women's volleyball records at Notre Dame, earned Rookie of the Year honors on the AVP beach volleyball circuit in 2002. She and teammate Tyra Turner reached as high as No. 5 in the world in 2009, but a knee injury forced Akers to retire in 2014.
After her retirement, Harris was working as the social media director for the World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach, California, when a friend convinced her to help him coach the Netherlands beach teams in the run up to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. She coached Marleen van Lersel and Madelein Meppelink to a ninth-place finish before signing a new four-year contract heading to the Tokyo Olympics.
The duo is still ranked No. 10 in the world, but the Tokyo Games have been postponed for a year because of the coronavirus. After six years living in the Netherlands traveling the international circuit, Akers fulfilled a promise to her husband, former Notre Dame football player Jeremy Akers, and they recently moved home to Redondo Beach, California.
Now Akers, 44, has a new job, coaching April Ross and Alix Klineman, the world's No. 2-ranked team and who are dominating the U.S. professional tour. Though they are a medal favorite going into the next Olympics, their coach's contract had also recently ended.
“Everybody had plans after Tokyo in August,” Akers said. “I had promised we'd be moving back, and their coach had promised she'd be moving home as well. Family comes first so we all had to make some difficult decisions. For me, it just happened to work out in an amazing way. I was coming back so I kind of stepped into a situation.”
The players and Akers took their time deciding if they were a good fit as a team. In fact, Akers has spent most of her time coaching the duo online and had not been on the beach with them in person as of Aug. 10 because California is under quarantine.
“I have a great opportunity in front of me, and I'm excited to be part of USA Volleyball again,” Akers said.
During her first two years in the Netherlands, Jeremy would spend two weeks with her before coming back to America for six weeks. When she signed a four-year contract after Rio, he moved to the Netherlands to join her, essentially working from home as director of strategy and business development for Blue Box Air.
“He knew how much I loved it over there, and he wanted that same experience of not just visiting but actually living,” she said. “We loved it. It was amazing for us, and we loved our time there. The Netherlands is a wonderful country, and it's a really special place. I've been telling people for a while now that it really is the hidden gem of the earth.”
It also helps her career that she is married to a former athlete who understands the demands of coaching. He was a multiple-year academic all-American at Notre Dame and played briefly in the NFL with several teams as an offensive lineman.
“He just has an understanding of the demands that are put on you as you travel and the accessibility and availability to your athletes and what it means,” she said. “It's super-important to have somebody who gets it.”
He also helps her understand and accept the change in mindset from player to coach. Every player who wants to coach believes it will be a simple transition, but it can take years to master.
“I finally flipped that switch and turned off the player inside,” Angie Akers said. “It's a hard thing for a lot of coaches who were former players to flip that switch off and not look at things from a player's perspective, especially when you need to have a coach's eye. I've learned so much about the way different people respond to different feedback and just teaching. Coaching really is just teaching.”