Junior Makayla Hurles

Junior Makayla Hurles attempts a spike for Estrella Foothills beach volleyball. (West Valley View photos by Eric Newman)

The Estrella Foothills Wolves are in the midst of their first-ever beach volleyball season, and are finding success at a faster rate than they expected.

Many girls from the indoor volleyball team, a successful squad that finished first in its region and reached the quarterfinals of the latest 4A playoffs, saw girls from opposing teams enjoying even more volleyball on the sand. With demand from players, boosters and parents, it was not a hard sell to start their own spring team.

“It always looked so fun. We all love volleyball and we’re so close as a team, so a lot of us have been wanting this for a while,” sophomore Nayeli Mancilla said.

However, the indoor game differs greatly from that on a wooden floor, with two players on the court instead of six and impaired speed in the sand. The early part of the season was a learning experience for everybody involved, especially coach Richard Davis.

Davis, an assistant for the Wolves’ basketball team in the winter, had never coached volleyball before, much less at the varsity level. While the girls are picking the game up on the fly, so is he.

“When they told me I got the job, I sat down and watched like six straight hours of film and coaching stuff just so I could get some of the basics,” Davis said. “But, I’ve coached before, so I have experience with the managing stuff, and so many of these girls already have so much volleyball knowledge that it’s made it a lot smoother.”

Citing techniques like hip rotations and split-second decisions on ball angle and speed, some of his basketball experience has come in handy on the sand court as well.

Estrella Foothills boasted a 5-3 record through eight matches, and was ranked No. 14 in Division 2. If the Wolves keep the same pace through the final weeks of the season, they could find themselves in the 16-team playoffs. Such a finish would far exceed what most of the team anticipated before play started in February.

“It would be awesome to make playoffs our first season,” junior Makayla Hurles said. “We thought we could be competitive. That was the goal. But I don’t know if any of us thought it would be like this.”

A potential playoff berth and win-loss record, however, will not define the 2019 season for Estrella Foothills. The team is very young – there is just one senior on the roster, who has battled injury all season – and is using this year as a chance to build its culture and team identity.

The goal is to build chemistry and skill to compete for state titles, just like the indoor team did this season. But, they are stopping to appreciate every moment along the way.

“Yeah, we’re thinking about what could come in the future, and if we’re one of those top teams that would be really cool,” Hurles said. “Right now we’re just enjoying this first season and want to finish strong.”