Miguel Sarabia reacts to a point

For the last 10 years, Mexico beach volleyball was synonymous with two words: Virgen and Ontiveros. They were Mexico beach volleyball, and Mexico beach volleyball was them. If you were to ask a team from, say, Brazil or the United States or Germany or Canada, who they were playing, and their response was “Mexico” it needed no further explanation.

They were playing Juan Virgen and Lombardo Ontiveros.

The word “legend” is bandied about quite a bit these days, and often in an entirely unfitting manner. Yet it wouldn’t be wrong to label Virgen and Ontiveros as legends in the realm of Mexican beach volleyball. From 2013 through 2021, they played 90 events together. They hauled in 21 medals, 10 of which were gold, all on the NORCECA continental circuit.

But there was a changing of the guard coming. While Virgen and Ontiveros’ powers were waning, the youngsters in Mexico were forcing their way onto the World Tour. In 2020, Josue Gaxiola and Jose Rubio shocked the world when they qualified for the Doha four-star and upset one team after the next – Billy Allen and Stafford Slick, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy, Evandro and Bruno – all the way to the finals. For all of their many accomplishments, a World Tour final was something Virgen and Ontiveros had made just twice, once in 2016 and another in 2018. Gaxiola and Rubio did it before most had even heard their names.

Perhaps, then, it was time for the new generation.

Perhaps it was time for Miguel Sarabia.

Ontiveros has not made any formal announcement regarding a retirement, but the 38-year-old has not signed up for an event since the final tournament of the Cancun series last April, when he and Virgen went winless in six matches across the three tournaments. It seemed to leave much to be desired for the two, so while Ontiveros has quietly stepped away from the game, Virgen has remained very much in the middle of it.

It’s strange, still, to see Virgen’s name next to not Ontiveros, but Sarabia. He’s just 23 years old, with only six World Tour events on his resume prior to this season. Already in 2022, he has eclipsed that career total, as this week’s World Championships, in Rome, Italy, marked his eighth tournament of the season. Already, he is competing on stages of a magnitude he has never before experienced, representing Mexico at the highest levels of beach volleyball, appearing in two Elite16s and the World Championships.

It doesn’t get any higher than that.

“It’s been a great experience, to be part of the World Championships, and to be able to play with a partner with so much experience on my first appearance,” Sarabia said. “I believe it will help my game to evolve and improve, so I’m very happy.”

As he should be. The results have not yet come for the two, but there have been glimmers. In their opening round of pool play in Rome, they went to three sets with Estonians Kusti Nolvak and Mart Tiisaar, who have made two semifinals in their last three tournaments. They picked up a win over Morocco’s Mohamed Abicha and Soufiane El Gharouti to break pool, something that a host of excellent teams will not be able to say. Most importantly: He earned experience, invaluable experience that will surely impact the remainder of his promising career.



“For me, it was an honour and a pleasure to be here, counting another World Championship, representing my country with my new partner,” Virgen said. “I had some different feelings as we’re experiencing a new process, but I was very happy to be able to play here.”

A loss to Canada’s Sam Schachter and Dan Dearing, another new team on the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour scene, in the Lucky Loser round, ended their World Championship run on Tuesday. But it is just beginning for the two, as it is just the beginning for this new epoch of Mexico beach volleyball.

In a few weeks, they’ll be competing in another Elite16, arguably the biggest of the season, in Gstaad, Switzerland. Then it’ll be Espinho and Morocco for Challenger events. Eleven total, in just four months’ time – nearly double Sarabia’s international experience prior to partnering with Virgen.

“We hope that the results will come,” Virgen said. “We are in a process and we would like the process to go faster and see the results.”

· Watch all matches at the Rome 2022 World Championships live on Volleyball.tv.