Burling and Baham’s success prove that opposites attract

Stan Liu/Arizona Athletics | The Daily Wildcat Sophomore Brooke Burling (31) during the Wildcats 4-1 loss to the Loyola Marymount Lions on March 3 at Bear Down Beach in Tucson, AZ.

It’s halfway through the Arizona beach volleyball season and the Sand Cats have an impressive 11-4 record. The secret sauce to the team’s success is the pairing of sophomore Jonny Baham and junior Brooke Burling. 

The sophomore-junior tandem have put together a career duo record of 28-10, quickly solidifying themselves as one of the teams’ best duos and the backbone of the Wildcats’ roster. Head coach Steve Walker united the two during the 2018 season and found the two succeeded together right away.

“They cover the court and see the game so well together,” Walker said. “It looks like those two came out of the womb and started crawling in sand.” 

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But the confidence between the two didn’t come right away. It wasn’t until late last season the pair felt they took off. It was a tough set of games for Arizona, as the road trip to Malibu included facing No. 6-ranked Cal Poly and a No. 2-ranked Pepperdine squad. The ‘Cats lost two of the three games that weekend including a 4-1 loss to Pepperdine. However, the only UA pair to come away with a win against the Wave was the newly formed duo of Burling and Baham.

“We beat a pair that we weren’t supposed to beat, and we stuck together really well,” Baham said. Burling added that it was from that point on that they believed they could “compete with anyone.”

Arizona's freshman beach volleyball player, Jonny Baham, lunges to receive the ball during the Beach Volleyball Wildcat Invitational on March 2 at Bear Down Bear, in Tucson, Ariz.

Yet being in sync in the sand is far more difficult than it sounds. In fact, the two grew up on opposite sides of the country. Baham grew up in the sandy beaches of Hawaii before moving to Carlsbad, Calif., for high school. Burling on the other hand, grew up in an area where in was hard to find sand: Naperville, Ill.

Oddly enough, opposites attract, as Brooke noted it’s their wildly different personalities that balance each other out. 

“I am definitely more outgoing, and sometimes I can get a little too excited, so Jonny, being the calm one, always brings me back to myself,” Burling said.

And their relationship away from the sand is just as strong as it is on the courts. 

“Jon Jon,” as Baham is commonly referred to by her teammates, “is like a little sister to me. I have two younger sisters, so it’s natural for me to take on that older-sibling role,” Burling said. 

Burling also acknowledges how important it is to have that kind of relationship with her partner. 

“It makes a team really special when you have that awesome connection. Yeah, she’s a great player, but we have a lot of great players, so that’s one of the things I love about Jonny,” she said.

“I love Brooke,” Baham added. “I’m the only sophomore on the team, so she likes to take me under her wing.”

Arizona's Jonny Baham, spikes the ball towards San Jose State on Feb. 25 a the Bear Down Beach.

Since the beginning of this season, the duo has been red hot, starting the year with a pairing record of 11-4, but the two of them feel nothing has changed since last year. 

“My hitting has definitely improved, and so has Brooke’s blocking, but I wouldn’t say our role is any different,” Baham said. “We’re a small team, so we’re still playing our scrappy kind of defense.”

The combo will be a critical piece of the puzzle this season, as Arizona beach volleyball is currently sitting at No. 15 in the AVCA polls and looking to contend for a Pac-12 championship.   

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