Exeter dives into beach volleyball debut

Avery Martin from the Monarchs spikes the ball midway through the second set.(Kenny Goodman)

Monarchs host their first ever beach volleyball match against the Bullard Knights; Exeterbeach volleyball  is now the lone public school in Tulare County to have the program

EXETER – As the usual spring sports have gotten their seasons rolling, a new sport has made its debut at Exeter High School: beach volleyball. This past Tuesday, the Monarchs hosted their first ever beach volleyball match when they played the Bullard Knights. While the Monarchs lost, 2-1, it was still a special occasion for the school.

“It’s just really exciting,” Exeter junior Reagn Bambl said. “The program has been very nice to play with and everyone’s learning here. We all haven’t really played beach volleyball before so it’s just a new experience. It’s been fun just playing out in the sun.”

With their match on March 19, Exeter is now the first public high school in Tulare County to host beach volleyball. Central Valley Christian has its own program while Fresno County school Immanuel also competes in the sport. Beach volleyball has quickly grown at the collegiate level, so Exeter head coach Samantha Hilvers was looking to get the Monarchs to add the program.

“Once Immanuel and CVC built their courts, it really opened the door for us to be able to have a serious conversation about building courts and adding the program for our girls,” Hilvers said. “We’re super excited and thankful that the district agreed to support it and support the girls in it.”

In their inaugural season, the Monarchs have 17 players on their roster. Fifteen of those players had not competed in a spring sport before, so now beach volleyball gives them an activity to do during this time of the year. While there has been a learning curve, Hilvers and the Monarchs have enjoyed the process.

“The girls are just having fun,” Hilvers said. “We actually have quite a few that are playing that don’t play indoor so they’re learning the game and enjoying it.”

The Monarchs, Alivia Martin leaps for a block against Bullard in Exeter’s first home beach volleyball match. (Kenny Goodman)

And even the Monarchs who have played indoor volleyball have had to learn. With only one partner on the court playing with you in the sand and the sun, it has been an adjustment for Bambl and her teammates.

“It’s been a lot harder with the measurements of the court and trying to keep balls in,” Bambl said. “But overall, it’s been fun to learn new skills and new techniques.”

During a beach volleyball match, there will be three separate games going on at once. Whoever wins two out of those three games will win the overall match. So with all three happening at once, Hilvers is not able to coach like she does in indoor volleyball.

“The hardest part for me is managing three games going on at once,” Hilvers said. “While they’re playing, I can only encourage them. I can’t call them to call a timeout, I can’t tell them a shot’s open or to serve here.”

In their first ever home match, Exeter beach volleyball competed hard against the visiting Bullard Knights. In the three-pair game, the Monarch duo of Bambl and Madison Gonzales won, 2-0 (21-9, 21-10), to give Exeter a 1-0 lead in the match. As they made quick work of their opponent, Bambl believes she and Gonzales built off what they know from indoor volleyball.

“We were just being smart, placing the ball and making sure to watch the competition before seeing what works best for us,” Bambl said. “Being able to play indoor really helped us bring it out here.”

In the one-pair game, Bullard defeated Exeter, 2-1 (20-22, 21-18, 15-10), to tie the match. Alivia Martin and Cascade Norton represented the Monarchs in this contest. Bullard then beat Exeter, 2-1 (12-21, 22-20, 15-13) in the two-pair game to win the match 2-1. Avery Barber and Meghan Brooks played for Exeter in this game.

With the loss to Bullard, the Monarchs fell to 1-2 to begin their inaugural season. They will have a few more matches and a couple more tournaments over the upcoming month to wrap up the year. As they head forward, Bambl looks forward to continuing to compete and learn the sport.

“I just hope that we go into every game just playing our hardest and knowing that we haven’t played before,” Bambl said. “Just keeping a positive mindset and just going for each point.”

But with this being the first season of Exeter beach volleyball, Hilvers hopes the Monarchs can be an example to encourage other Tulare County schools to add the sport. She understands that schools might hesitate to invest money in order to build the sand courts to play on. But she believes that if other local schools can build and share one court, a new sport would give student-athletes across the county a new spring activity.

“Anything that gets athletes involved or students involved in general is huge,” Hilvers said. “It’s good for the girls and it’s something different. A lot of indoor games are really intense with really high emotions and high stakes so this is a lot more relaxed and casual out here and the girls really enjoy it.”

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