Sun, sand and success: Beach volleyball team advances to second round of playoffs for first time in school history


Seniors Stella Smyth (left) and Jenna Marks (right) participate in a match. The Beach Volleyball seniors have been described as “integral” by their teammate Gillian Varnum, and Smyth herself has been called the “team leader” by her coach Tom Slauterbeck. Photo courtesy of Archer Athletics.

The beach volleyball team made Archer history on April 29 when it reached the second round of the IBVL Playoffs for the first time in the four years of the program.

“There’s been a continuity, just a team unity that has carried us through each season,” Head Coach Tom Slauterbeck said. “This being the [fourth] year, all of that knowledge, all of that experience, has finally come together.”

Junior and co-captain Gillian Varnum added that the win was “special” because of the large number of seniors on the team, some of which have been playing beach volleyball since the program’s inception.

“For this to be [the seniors’] last season and for us to get the farthest that we have in Archer history was pretty great as a team,” Varnum said.

However, it was not only their years together or their knowledge that led the team to victory. Slauterbeck cited a team culture as a driving force behind the win.

“When you compete, you go all in, and you go with a full belief that you can totally do it, no matter who your competition is,” Slauterbeck said. “Everyone tries to establish that, but when a team actually buys into it, it’s quite miraculous to see the accomplishments that they can make.”

Despite their “great” season, Varnum said that the team plans to accomplish even more next year.

“Next year, [we want] to make a new record,” Varnum said. “I think if we can continue the positivity and good team vibes that we have, it will be great.”

Slauterbeck was also optimistic about the future of the team.

“We have a strong and talented group, even though they’re younger,” Slauterbeck said. “I don’t see why we can’t make the playoffs again. Once we get into the playoffs, it all comes down to who we match up against. But I do see next year’s team, though younger, will definitely have a lot of talent and will be ready to go.”

Even though coaches and players look to the future, Varnum said that the end of this season and the farewell to the team’s seniors was “emotional.”

“It was the first senior night we’ve ever had,” Varnum said. “And we’ve also been on the team with those seniors for so many years, so they’ve really been an integral part of beach volleyball, now they’re leaving. Of course, we’re very excited for them, but it’s going to be a big shift next year.”

Slauterbeck suggested that there would be a “shift” in the team dynamic as a result of the seniors’ departure.

“It’s going to be mostly to find who’s going to be the team leaders,” Slauterbeck said. “Who are going to take the roles of captains, and who’s going to be my driving force.”

Slauterbeck said he saw an example of a “team leader” in senior and current team co-captain Stella Smyth.

“[Stella] always came in ready to work,” Slauterbeck said. “She was always very playful in her approach, but when she was on the court, she was very fierce. … You knew that she was totally committed, not only to the team, but also committed to making her partners better.”

Despite being “sad to see the seniors go,” Slauterbeck believes there are some universal qualities in all Archer athletes.

“They are true student-athletes,” Slauterbeck said. “They are terrific athletes, getting themselves ready for … what college they will go to, and they’re also providing very strong accomplishments on a sporting field. So I think if you need to find a student-athlete, I think you’re looking directly at what Archer has to offer.”