Digging it out

The team of Maisie Eliashof and Shea Wakasa were part of the reason the Half Moon Bay High School club beach volleyball team was able to claim a regional title on Sunday. Photo courtesy Hilary Stamper

Half Moon Bay High School’s club beach volleyball players are Northern California champions after an abbreviated but successful second season.

The monthlong season culminated in a double elimination bracket of dual-style match-ups at Ocean Beach in San Francisco on Sunday at the Northern California High School Beach Volleyball League finals. Entering as the third seed, the Cougars swept the competition, winning 10 out of 12 matches and all four of their duals to secure the title for the first time in school history.

To Coach Mike Inglis, the day was a culmination of a year of hard work. After COVID-19 shut down the team mid-season last spring, Inglis said many of the girls were looking for an outlet to keep up their skills during the offseason and get outside amid the pandemic. So he kept working with them through the year, abiding by safety protocols out on the sand. Then, he got the email from the league: They would have just a month to compete.

“I wasn’t even sure there was going to be a season,” Inglis said.

Although short, the Cougar girls’ successful season showcased their tenacity and discipline. Each competition features three pairs of two girls competing to win two out of three sets in a match. On April 24 in Pleasant Valley, the girls came out swinging, winning 12 of 16 matches. The team of Jasmine Standez and Connor Black went 4-0. The pairs of Shea Wakasa and Maisie Eliashof as well as Tani Vogel and Meagan Mitchell finished 3-1 on the day. Natalie Inglis and Hannah Paik split, finishing 2-2. Inglis said their early wins against traditionally strong programs came as a pleasant surprise to the dedicated athletes, who play indoor and outdoor volleyball year-round.

On Saturday under a blanket of fog just south of Francis Beach in Half Moon Bay, the field was even more competitive, with Pleasant Valley’s top team offering a formidable opponent to Wakasa and Eliashof. Wakasa said the Vikings’ strategic ball placement pressured the pair from the start, securing two straight sets to win the match.

“They’re good at hitting away from the defense,” Wakasa said.

But against Modesto’s Central Catholic High School, Wakasa and Eliashof showed their composure with easy sets and well-placed attacks, winning both their matches handily. On Sunday, the pair swept their match-ups, going 3-0 on the day, even avenging their loss against Pleasant Valley in the finals.

In a Saturday match-up with Redwood High School out of Marin, Vogel and Grace Bigelow-Leth found their rhythm and didn’t let up. Sharp serving got them off to an early lead, with well-timed tips and the occasional kill securing the win. The pair ultimately went 2-2 on Saturday and 4-1 on Sunday.

In Mitchell and Joey Vetrone’s matches against Redwood on Saturday, the team dominated their final showing with a handful of aces and a powerful spike from Mitchell to close out the set 15 to 5, bringing their Saturday record to 4-2. The pair swept the field on Sunday, going 3-0. Standez and Black went 2-2, Inglis and Paik went 2-1 and Mikaela Sendino and Mayah Johnson went 4-2 on Sunday.

The Sunday showing cemented the program — in just its second year — as a powerhouse. And next year, the team will move from club status to an official high school sport after the California Interscholastic Federation council voted in early February to formalize girls’ beach volleyball in the league. Inglis said he hopes the move will increase interest and visibility for the sport, particularly for incoming freshmen willing to join a group that’s dedicated and close-knit.

“They love being out there and they enjoy being together, too,” Inglis said. “That’s been a big help. They’ve gone through this crazy time together.”

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