Middle school beach volleyball team reflects on challenges, triumphs of season’s finals


Photo credit: Kim Smith

Finalist pairs smile after playing Windward in the PBL championship. Eighth grader Hana Cho said the team made major progress since the beginning of the beach volleyball program and overcame challenges throughout the season.

By Tavi Memoli, Senior Reporter

Unlike last season, when the weather was mostly warm and sunny, this season, the middle school beach volleyball players often showed up to practice to train for their games in gray, windy weather. Nonetheless, they persevered and prepared for the finals of Pacific Basin League playoffs.

For the first time, the team made it to the finals of PBL playoffs and placed second behind Windward. The team played Wildwood in the semifinals, where they won 3-0, and they went onto lose to Windward in the final round 2-1.

The team practiced after school at the Santa Monica State Beach volleyball courts Monday through Thursday. Eighth grader Hana Cho plays on the beach volleyball team and said most practices consisted of hitting, passing and setting drills as well as practicing serves and receives. Additionally, she said her and her teammates often rallied and scrimmaged during practice to improve consistency and emulate a game environment. 

“A challenge that we faced was playing against really tough teams like Windward School, where almost all the players play club volleyball and are all really strong athletes. That was definitely a time of struggle because we had to win two out of the three games to win as a school. It’s mentally and physically difficult because even if we win a couple points, the other team can go on a run,” Cho said. “We did really well this season. It was fun because we got to see our friends from other schools at games, and we got to play against them, and they were tough competition.” 

Eighth grader Sophie Shafipour started playing volleyball in third grade and competitively in sixth grade. Shafipour said she joined Archer’s beach volleyball team last year because of her past experience with the sport and was surprised to form such close connections with her teammates by the end of each season.  

“There’s a lot of energy on the courts and when you win. It’s always really fun to celebrate with your team,” Shafipour said. “When we went to finals in May, even though my team lost, it was really fun because we made it a step farther. We did really well this season and won a lot of our games, but finals at the end of our season was most memorable for me.”

Sophie Salehi is a seventh grader and has played volleyball since she was 7. She said she joined the team this year because she enjoys playing volleyball and thought working with one partner would be a fun change. Salehi said she enjoyed playing against other schools this year and that while the team did face challenges this season, she found a way to see the positives of enduring those challenges.

“Playing against people I knew was fun. It was really competitive, and I thought that that was really fun and memorable,” she said. “We did face challenges since a lot of people couldn’t come to practices and games because of musicals or other activities. We had to switch up partners a lot, but I thought it was fun.”

Cho said that during practices and games, her and her teammates had great communication. Throughout the season, she received helpful feedback from her two coaches who, like her teammates, were very supportive of her. Cho said this paid off in the end when they played in the semifinals. 

“The most memorable moment was the semifinals because my partner and I played our best game that season,” Cho said. “We were against some really tough competition, but we pushed through and beat them.”