Upper school beach volleyball hits the sand for new season

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Photo credit: Liliana Franks

Sophomore Chloe Chu spikes the volleyball over the net during team practice at Annenberg Community Beach on Feb. 9. The team enjoys watching the sunset while bonding and staying active, teammate Tavi Memoli (’25) said.

By Lucy Williams, Senior Reporter

Four days a week, a group of 16 Archer girls take a van to the beach and train under the sun. The upper school beach volleyball season started Jan. 31, and the team holds practices and games at Annenberg Community Beach House. They practice Monday through Thursday from 4-5:30 p.m.

“This first week was to get to know each other. We had an inner-squad game on Thursday to see all the talent and the ability of everyone, and to be able to set practices,” Head Coach Tom Slauterbeck said. “Most of the players showed a lot of hustle and defense for the competition.”

The team is younger, with six freshmen and three sophomores in total. Slauterbeck said they have the highest attendance to practices compared to past years. He also said the older players are starting to become role models for the newcomers.

“Uma Bajaj and Gemma Larbalestier are returners from last year, Slauterbeck said. “They’ve already set the precedent for overall hustle, being attentive in practice and visiting what the expectations are according to the beach volleyball culture that we have in Archer.”

A typical practice is between 90 minutes to two hours. However, Slauterbeck said practicing at the beach is a different experience than indoor volleyball.

“We get together and do some ball skills to get used to handling the elements, which is not something that everyone on the team is used to. You can get used to running around in the sand, but the wind is a tough one,” Slauterbeck said. “We do some team drills and competitions and then work on strategy and teamwork.”

Freshman Tavi Memoli said she enjoys the beach views during everyday practices. She also recognizes the impact of outdoor elements on the game, but approaches it as a challenge.

“You don’t want it to be too sunny or too windy out,” Memoli said. “But on a good day, imagine playing your favorite sport while watching the sunset at the beach. I want to improve on strength because, at the beach, it’s a lot harder to play. My goal is to get stronger and play harder.”

In the past, junior Uma Bajaj played on the indoor varsity volleyball team. She joined beach volleyball last year and said she is excited to navigate the dynamic of the new team.

“I want to do well, and I know a lot of the kids have never played volleyball in their life,” Bajaj said. “I made one of my friends do it who’s never played volleyball, and she’s having a fun time. I hope everyone has a fun season.”

The team has preseason matches scheduled against Notre Dame Academy, Santa Monica High School and Chaminade College Preparatory. This is the first year that the team is being recognized as a CIF beach volleyball sport for upper school. They have yet to split into JV and varsity, but they have already made collective goals for the spring season.

“The goal this season would be to have some of the younger players step forward to be the captains and leaders,” Slauterbeck said. “We would definitely want the team to [go to] the playoffs and see where we finish within those competitions.”