Already seasoned in the standard world of indoor volleyball, Jaime Harrington and Haley Sawyer didn’t have any experience playing beach volleyball before this summer.
Now, with the season winding down, Harrington and Sawyer don’t just have a beach volleyball background – they have a long list of accomplishments as well.
Playing essentially on a whim in the New England Regional Junior Beach Tour championships in Newport in July, Harrrington, 11 and Sawyer, 12, captured the 12-and-under title in their first-ever beach volleyball tournament.
That win gave the girls a berth in the US Junior Beach Tour National Championships in Milwaukee from July 25-27, where they competed against the best beach volleyball players from around the country.
That served as a springboard for a few more tournaments throughout the summer, all of which they’ve had plenty of success in.
For two girls who didn’t have beach volleyball on their radar as recently as two months ago, reaching the national championships and leaving their mark was impressive, and rewarding.
“It was fantastic,” said Jaime’s father Mike, the longtime Bishop Hendricken volleyball coach. “We know that they’re pretty skilled players. In their indoor season they sort of advanced up in age group. But it was literally their first time stepping on a beach volleyball court, playing together.”
The summer journey started out on the indoor courts, where Jaime Harrington and Sawyer both play for Blast Volleyball, one of the premier volleyball clubs in the area.
Skilled players at a young age, Harrington – whose mother Kelly also coaches volleyball as the head coach of the Pilgrim girls’ team – and Sawyer skipped right over the 12-and-under team and ended up playing for the 14-and-under squad this past season.
As the youngest girls on the team, they gravitated toward each other, until one day Sawyer saw an advertisement for the regional tournament.
“We were walking into a practice one day and Haley turned to Jaime and said, ‘Hey Jaime, I saw in a magazine there’s a volleyball tournament in Newport. Would you like to play?’” Mike Harrington said. “Jaime said, ‘Sure.’ We had no idea it would lead to this awesome summer, traveling to nationals and other tournaments in New Hampshire.”
That was the springboard they needed, as they entered the regional tournament soon after. When they got to Newport, there were only six teams combined in the 14-and-under and 12-and-under age brackets, so they formed one division.
Playing largely against older girls, Harrington and Sawyer still more than held their own. They went 4-1 throughout the tournament, earning them a place in the 12-and-under finals.
In a close match, they prevailed, punching their unlikely ticket to Milwaukee. The only other time that either of them played beach volleyball was earlier that weekend, when Mike Harrington had set up a net on Narragansett beach and given them a little practice.
Other than that, their first foray into the sport was winning the title.
“They were thrilled,” Mike Harrington said. “The finals that they played was a real close game. The wind was playing havoc on the ball. It was a struggle for both teams to keep the ball alive. We were psyched. Big smiles ear to ear. They were given medals and their certificates.”
Next up was Milwaukee, playing against standout players with significant training from places like Texas and Chicago and North Carolina.
Harrington and Sawyer held their own, making up for some tough matches initially with a strong run through the consolation bracket. They ended up tied for fifth in their division.
“It was a great experience,” Mike Harrington said. “That was only the second time the girls have played beach volleyball, going up against girls who train year-round in beach volleyball.”
With nationals behind them, Harrington and Sawyer didn’t stop. They played in a 14-and-under tournament in New Hampshire this past weekend and ended up as runners-up. Two weeks before that, they made a run in a 16-and-under tournament. On Sept. 7, they’ll wrap up their summer slate with one final tournament in Lakeville, Mass.
“The girls got hooked,” Mike Harrington said.
And that certainly won’t be the end of their beach volleyball journeys. As Harrington enters the sixth grade and Sawyer enters eighth, they’ll continue playing Blast Volleyball until next summer comes around.
Then, it’ll be back to the beach.
“Next summer we’re going to fill our whole summer with beach volleyball tournaments,” Harrington said.