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‘They’re so confident’: Middle school beach volleyball team gains independence, navigates wins, losses

Members of the middle school beach volleyball team practice at the Annenberg Beach. The team is composed of 15 total players. Only three pairs play for points in tournaments, and alternates play for fun against other teams. “I’m having fun and definitely gaining skills and confidence on and off the court,” Bella Sklaver (‘29) said. “I feel like that’s a lot of what sports is all about.” Photo by Sheila Micelli.

Running across hot sand under the beaming sun, eighth grader Bella Sklaver spikes the volleyball over the net during practice while her teammates cheer her on.

The middle school beach volleyball team practiced at the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from March to April. They also played a game each Friday. April 26 marked the end of the team’s season, and they placed third in the league.

Over the course of the season, the team played six games: four against other schools— including New Roads and Wildwood — and two Pacific Basin League Individual Pairs Championships. In tournaments, the team of 15 players was split into pairs. Three of these pairs competed for points, while the others were alternates and played against other teams for practice. Despite three losses and one win, the team won numerous sets, and players Sophie Salehi (’28) and Jackie Mayne (’28) placed first in PBL Individual Pairs Championships April 19.

Coaches Charlie Schmitt and Lauren Shook led every practice. Shook said the team warmed up and worked on their skills, doing five or six drills each meet. Shook has been at Archer for two years, coaching beach volleyball for the first time this year, but she has coached indoor for eight years. As the season progressed, she said students took more of an active role in leading warmups.

“We have a very structured set of drills that the middle schoolers do for the first half of practice, and they have gotten to a point where they can fully run it themselves, which is so awesome. They have mastered that,” Shook said. “It’s really awesome to see them go from the beginning of the season where they really didn’t know what they were doing, to now where they can whip it out and totally nail it.”

Schmitt said one of their most memorable practices was in the rain. He said playing in the rain brought out the team’s “animalistic” side.

“It started off being a bummer and, ‘Oh gosh, the rain,’ and it turned into, ‘Wow, we’re like warriors — going into battle and rain,’” Schmitt said. “It was a lot of fun, and the girls enjoyed it.”

Sklaver said she was excited for the final game because her team all came together.

“It’s kind of been a long road,” Sklaver said. “A bunch of us have had missed tournaments because of other commitments, and so it’s nice to just have one tournament where we’re all together.”

Although volleyball and beach volleyball are similar sports, player Juliet Nichols (‘29) said there are still distinct differences between the two, with one of the biggest being the number of players. In beach volleyball, duos compete against each other instead of larger teams of six players.

“There’s a different amount of players. There’s a different court. There’s different rules,” Nichols said. “The main difference is you’re just with one other person. You really need to work together, and you need to cover more space.”

Shook said playing the team’s first game was nerve-racking, especially for its newer players, but by the end of the season, the team eagerly got out on the court.

“When you go from not knowing anything at all to all of a sudden competing, and you’re in the PBL championships, that’s a huge jump. And I think they’ve done a really, really good job,” Shook said. “I remember specifically their first match, and so many of them were so scared, and now, they’re so confident and they’re excited to play.”

In beach volleyball, Schmitt emphasized the importance of community within a team. He said working with athletes at all levels is incredibly rewarding. Schmitt said being on the team is more than being the best player — it’s about loving the sport.

“I’m just so happy I get to be involved in Archer. I think the kids and the students that go to that school, they’re always so personable and so charismatic and a joy to be around,” Schmitt said. “These kids are so special. I’m excited that some of them are going to be moving on to upper school next year.”

Placing first does not mean success in beach volleyball, Player Izzie Erickson (‘28) said, rather it is most important to grow both independently and as a teammate.

“I mean, of course, if you’re winning, that’s really good,” Erickson said. “But if you’re becoming closer with your teammates, and you’re growing as an individual and becoming comfortable with everything around you, for me, at least, [that’s success].”

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About the Contributor
Charlotte Burnap
Charlotte Burnap, Staff Reporter
Charlotte Burnap became a staff reporter in 2023. At Archer, she sings in choir and the Unaccompanied Minors, Archer's a cappella group. In her free time, you can find her listening to music, reading, or hanging out with her friends.

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    Gabby KaplanMay 10, 2024 at 1:51 pm

    I didn’t read this until now! GREAT JOB CHARLOTTE!