The Fourth of July holiday proved to be a busy yet rewarding day of beach volleyball for Ridgefield’s Emily Paul.
Busy because she and her playing partner were on the sand for close to 8 hours in the sun.
Rewarding because, by working their way through the consolation bracket, they qualified for a national tournament.
“And then later,” said Paul, an incoming Ridgefield High junior, “we had to go to a party for the Fourth of July.”
Quite the day, indeed, for Paul and her playing partner, Sophie Gregoire, out of Newberg (Ore.) High. The duo representing the Oregon Juniors Volleyball Association, their club organization, earned one of three 16U bids to the 2020 National Beach Volleyball Tour Junior Championships from the regional qualifier held July 4 in Salem, Ore.
The national tournament is next week in Huntsville, Ala., but with the coronavirus pandemic, it’s still up in their air whether she’ll compete at nationals, Paul said.
Paul is accustomed to winning on the beach and in the gym at high school. She’s a returning defensive specialist for Ridgefield, a program that’s won the past two Class 2A state titles and aims to be Washington’s first three-peat champion in 2A since Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls) did it from 1999-01.
What began as a fun-loving way to play a different side of volleyball has helped Paul, 16, gain strides as a back-row player. She began traditional indoor club volleyball at age 12, and quickly got hooked on volleyball in the sand.
And it has benefited her in more ways than one, she said, such as honing her skills, and building communication and teamwork with one other person as opposed to a larger team.
“It gives you more of a base to build off of,” she said, “so you can also go indoors and work on that with your partners. It’s great for outside hitters and most of the pin hitters to work on shots and placements. But as a defensive specialist, it helps me indoors, too, run down balls and the sand makes you quicker.”
Beach volleyball features two players per side, and scoring is to 21 in best-of-three matches. The one-day regional tournament held earlier this month was Paul’s second of the season, and first with new partner Gregoire. They played five matches on the day, including four in the consolation bracket to earn a spot at nationals. For Paul, it’s her third bid to nationals.
“We both were tired,” Paul said, “… We gave it 100 percent and we did not back down.”
The coronavirus pandemic meant no summer league to play in or team camps to attend with her high school teammates. But Paul is hopeful to get back in the gym for her high school season — with her third nationals bid in beach volleyball in hand.
“It’s something completely different,” she said of beach volleyball. “It’s kind of like a completely different sport, but it helps me work on friendship and different types of teamwork.”