Beach of Dreams: Nobles, Powell set sights on pro volleyball careers
Tambre Nobles’ backyard is filled with a truckload of her hopes and dreams.
Nobles, who played outside hitter for BYU’s 2014 team that advanced to the NCAA championship game, has a full-sized sand volleyball court out the back door of her home in Lehi.
Melissa Fuchs Powell, who prepped at Pleasant Grove and finished her college career at the University of Utah, had similar dreams, and fate have led them together.
Nobles and Powell have embarked on a challenging journey as professional beach volleyball players, taking on some of the top teams in the world in places such as Brazil, Qatar, Turkey and Lithuania. They have moved up into the top 150 of the rankings in the world out of roughly 30,000 registered beach volleyball players. A few weeks ago in Michigan, Nobles and Powell qualified for their first main draw on the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) Tour.
Utah hasn’t produced a lot of quality beach volleyball players over the years, but that’s changing. Nobles and Powell jokingly call themselves the “Jamaican bobsled team of beach volleyball,” a reference to the improbable Olympic experience for the Jamaicans in that sport in 1988.
“The last few years we’ve been trying to qualify on the AVP tour and it’s been super hard,” Powell said. “We’ve been traveling to a lot of events and losing to a bunch of Olympians. We’ve gotten better quicker playing better teams. We feel like it’s our time and it’s a dream come true.”
Nobles transferred from Northern Colorado to BYU in 2013, helping the unseeded Cougars to the 2014 NCAA championship game before losing to Penn State. Her younger sisters, Lyndie Haddock-Eppich and Lacy Haddock, were a big part of the BYU team that was ranked No. 1 for much of the 2018 season and advanced to the Final Four.
After the completion of her college eligibility, Nobles settled into life with her husband, Bryce, and eventually two children. Nobles coached the Lehi girls volleyball team for several years but also started playing beach volleyball.
“I just fell in love with the sport,” she said. “I played in some tournaments and got better. I had a dream to pursue beach volleyball professionally.”
Busy with her young family, Nobles decided to build a sand volleyball court in her backyard.
“I needed to be able to train,” she said. “It was nice to be able to do that at my house. The kids could be sleeping and in a comfortable environment and that was a huge blessing.”
This is where Powell came into the picture.
Powell played for Allyce Jones at Pleasant Grove, helping the Vikings to a state title her senior season in 2012. Powell competed at Central Michigan and Houston Baptist before heading to the University of Utah and its fledgling beach program.
She graduated in 2018, married BYU football player Riggs Powell and began training with P1440, an organization run by US Olympian Kari Walsh Jennings. Powell played on the World Tour Circuit with Allison Spurrier and competed on the Brazil Pro Tour during the pandemic. With dual citizenship, Powell played on the pro circuit for six months.
While living in Brazil, Powell marveled at the support those athletes received to further their pro careers, and when she returned to Utah she wanted to provide similar assistance.
Project Beach Utah was born with Powell as founder, director and CEO.
“Only the very top players in beach volleyball make good money, so it’s very hard to pursue a career,” Nobles said. “Melissa wanted to create an organization to help grow beach volleyball in Utah and assist those who wanted to go pro.”
A pro beach volleyball career requires intensified training and support from a village of experts, including coaches, physical therapists and nutritionists. Financial assistance is critical to travel to events around the world.
Powell’s Project Beach Utah has three tiers of training: Beginning, development and pro. Nobles joined the development tier and rose quickly in the internal rankings system, which includes points for attendance, tournament finishes, completion of drills and personal workouts. During her first year at Project Beach Utah, Nobles finished first in the rankings.
“I was really impressed by Tambre,” Powell said. “We wanted the same things.”
The two became playing partners and began to compete in pro beach events.
“We’re pretty similar in the way we deal with problems,” Powell said. “We see things the same way and this is a really good learning experience. It’s kind of like a marriage in learning how to communicate with a partner.”
At 6-feet tall, Nobles said she always felt kind of small playing indoor volleyball.
“I love the transition to beach because size doesn’t matter,” she said. “What matters is ball control and you need to be a well-rounded player.”
Project Beach Utah, which trains at the Sand Bar and the Sports Mall in Salt Lake City, is growing quickly and gaining traction in the volleyball world. Powell started with about eight players in her organization but last fall the numbers had grown to 70 athletes. Powell was able to pay a full-time coach, former Brazilian Olympian Cristine Sant’Anna.
The help of sponsors makes it possible for Nobles and Powell to travel to professional tournaments, both in the US and abroad. Those sponsors include Teriyaki Grill (owned by former BYU football player Mike Keim), the Iron Cowboy, DownEast Outfitters, Auto Savvy, Wags Capital (owned by former BYU football player Aaron Wagner), Keto Chow and Unishippers.
“Having people in your corner supporting you is super important,” Nobles said. “It’s a huge blessing because there aren’t a lot of players have that kind of support so they can pursue their dreams. I feel so blessed that this opportunity came around for me.”
Now that the pair have made a main draw at an AVP event they feel confident they can continue to grow. This week, they are headed to Greece to play in the Beach Volleyball World Pro Tour.
“I feel like our goals are more attainable every day and every tournament we play in,” Powell said. “We want to try to get to the Olympics in 2024 or 2028. We love being the underdogs and being from Utah.”