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It's an adventure, not a job, for sand soccer players
It's an adventure, not a job, for sand soccer players

They are salesmen, graphic designers, landscapers, close friends, husbands and fathers.

For one weekend a year, though, they are soccer players first. And this year, they are officially the best America has to offer on sand.

Hampton Roads Soccer Council Elite, a tight-knit team of mostly thirtysomethings with jobs and families and mortgages, outlasted younger and flashier Florida Beach Soccer FC for a 3-2 win Sunday to capture the U.S. Open sand soccer title.

The event was the main draw at the McDonald's North American Sand Soccer Championships, which filled its temporary Oceanfront stadium for the finale.

The title was the first since 2008 for HRSC Elite, which overcame an early 1-0 deficit to deny Florida Beach a third straight crown.

"Our game might not be as pretty as theirs, but we just grind it out," said Josh Nolz, a 33-year-old midfielder/software salesman whose bicycle kick assist in the second of three 12-minute periods gave his team the lead for good. "We work as a team, and we got the results."

That they work as a team after so long together is to be expected. The results, perhaps, are a different story.

All but two of HRSC Elite's 11 players are from Hampton Roads, and many of them played conventional soccer in college and beyond. Some have played sand soccer together for more than 10 years.

The players don't put in as much on-field time as their competitors. While teams like Florida Beach, which came stocked with U.S. sand soccer national team captain Francis Farberoff and several players from other national teams, compete year-round, HRSC Elite works to squeeze in practice time.

The players didn't get their feet onto the weighty sand until about two weeks before the tournament, and even then they practiced just once or twice a week with piecemeal personnel. Their first appearance on sand this year with the entire roster present came during Friday's opening round.

It's a far cry from the team's early days, which date to about 2000. Back then, the single life meant virtually unlimited dedication for most of the players.

"We used to take it really, really, really serious," said striker Josh Hill, a 31-year-old graphic designer and the father of 3-year-old and 10-month-old girls. "And we still do. But now, it's not our life like some of these other guys."

It used to be life for Daryl Fischer, a former professional goalkeeper on the short rows of a nomadic career.

At 38, Fischer is one of HRSC Elite's oldest players, a fact that's impossible to detect as he heaves his burly body parallel to the ground to block shot after shot.

Fischer, a Norfolk Catholic graduate, played two years in the mid-1990s for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the now-defunct American Professional Soccer League before being drafted and cut by D.C. United of Major League Soccer.

Since then, he's knocked around various levels of soccer, including a stint on the U.S. sand soccer national team.

Fischer, who loads trucks for UPS and works as the general manager of a local car dealership, said this week that he plans to make this year his last. He'll try out for the national team this summer. If he doesn't make it, he said, that's it.

After Sunday's win, shouting above the music and the crowd and his celebrating teammates, Fischer said, "It's a joy to go out on top."

Fischer is rare among his teammates in that he's even considering the end. Most of them want to continue playing as long as they can.

"Hopefully, I've got a good three, four, five years left - I hope," said Caleb Hill, a 30-year-old operations manager at a landscaping company and Josh Hill's younger brother. "But every year, it gets a little bit harder."

Josh Hill, who came up playing club soccer in Virginia Beach before moving on to Virginia Wesleyan with his brother, plans to play into his 40s if he can remain competitive, sticking with what he called a "family" of teammates who have formed a core group.

The opposition, of course, can help dictate how much longer HRSC Elite's players can continue to beat back the clock.

"They get younger every year," Josh Hill said. "We're getting older. We're just in different points in our life than a lot of them."

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