Rockwood Thunder Hits the Beach

By Kyle Scholzen (kyle.scholzen@usav.org) | July 20, 2019, 12:51 a.m. (ET)

A competitor at the 2019 National Beach Tour Junior Championships.

MANHATTAN BEACH, California (July 19, 2019) – The 2019 National Beach Tour Junior Championships continued Friday as the 12-and-under and 16U divisions played their second and final round of pool play. With 505 teams and over 1,000 players taking part in the tournament, there are thousands of stories of how players reached the national championship, how they overcame struggles, and how they celebrated the big occasions.

Four Missourians Walk onto the Beach…

There are nine teams in the 12U Boys National Open Division, and two teams hail from the same club. Not any of the local clubs around Manhattan Beach, and not even one from the west coast; the pairs of Jack McClanahan and Cole Esparza (both from Ballwin, Missouri) and Luke Schall (Chesterfield, Missouri) and Thomas Thoman (Ofallon, Missouri) all play at Rockwood Thunder out of the Gateway Region. 

McClanahan and Esparza started playing sand volleyball this year, shortly before the Boys Junior National Championships last month. “We played indoor at Nationals, and we played together,” said Esparza. “There’s a few sand volleyball courts [by my house] and we decided to practice there and get ready for nationals.”

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McClanahan has enjoyed his new venture outdoors so far. “It’s really fun. You have to watch all the balls, you have to be ready for everything. And it’s a lot of fun to face challenging teams.”

Thoman and Schall, meanwhile, played in the 2018 NBTJC, and there’s one difference that’s immediately notable. “More competition out here [compared to last year],” according to Schall. “Last year there were only five teams, and now there’s nine. It’s tougher.”

Thoman agreed. “There’s a lot going on. They’re right on the beach, so they get a lot more practice than we do out in Missouri. We have to keep up with them.” 

Keep up with them they have, Thoman and Schall have picked up three wins and played even more close matches. They’re directly in the age bracket’s quarterfinal round. McClanahan and Esparza will play in the bracket’s play-in match during their final day of the tournament. 

A potential finals opponent for either Rockwood Thunder squad? Riley Massey and Landon Martin, also from the Gateway Region. 

A Perfect Birthday

What’s an ideal birthday? A trip to the zoo? Big party with a lot of friends? How does a 4-0 record at a national championship tournament sound? 

Londyn Stone (Wooster, Ohio; Sandbox Volleyball) knows all about it. She turned 11 today and went undefeated with partner Sara Snowbarger to celebrate.

“It’s been tiring, but I love being here and I love playing volleyball, I love the sport. It was a really good birthday to be able to play,” Snow said. 

Known as “Birthday Girl” to everyone on court 14, Stone seemed to draw strength from the special day. “When we were down, we would come back and give a lot of energy. We didn’t give up.” 

Queens of the Court

Two 16U National contestants had a strong start to their Friday. Gracyn Spresser (Springdale, Arkansas) and Mikayla Benanti (Overland Park, Kansas) of P4:13 Beach Club won the day’s King/Queen of the Court competition, downing competitors from various age groups and even a couple teams of coaches.

It was a nice boost before they started the second day of competition. “It gives us more confidence going into pool play,” said Spresser. “Seeing how we’re beating coaches, it helps us see the things we can do.”

That also was apparent to Benanti. “Today we’re going to go in, we’re going to be better, we’re going to hope to get first seed and go into gold.”

Up, then Down but not Out

Up 18-13, things were looking good for 16U National team Logan Scully (Mukilteo, Washington) and Anika Christensen (Vaughn, Washington) of Dakine Volleyball Club. Then Scully dove for a ball, and the hard impact on the sand knocked the wind out of her. 

After a five-minute medical timeout for Scully, their opponents – Amina Attra (Houston, Texas) and Phoebe Stigen (Baytown, Texas) from Absolute Volleyball Academy and Houston Stellar VC – rallied and tied the match at 19-all. The Dakine duo didn’t fold, however; the teams traded points for a while before they went on a small run to end the contest 28-23. 

“We just focused on the points to come rather than the ones that had already happened so we could build from there,” said Scully of the team’s mentality after the match. 

“I had to stay aggressive and focus on getting a lead even when the other team was catching up. Not playing too timid, focusing on every ball, and just trying to get us that next point to get us ahead,” Christensen added.

The tournament continues Saturday, July 20, with the championship round of both divisions. Play begins at 8 a.m., once again at Manhattan Beach, California