The decision of where to attend college, be it for school or academics, is typically one of the more difficult ones for a teenager to make — the difficulty being that, typically, you only get to pick one. Big school or small? City or open land? Inland or coastal?

Julia Scoles laughed when she recalled a message she received from one of her friends at North Carolina last week: “Just casually going through my three dream schools.”

Last week, the 6-foot-1 Scoles announced that she would be finishing a coast-to-coast-to-coast collegiate career at the University of Southern California, transferring after graduating from the University of Hawai’i.

It’s been an academic and athletic journey that initially took her just a few hours from her home in Mooresville, North Carolina. The 2015 North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, committed to the University of North Carolina, where she’d play only one full year, sidelined by concussions two matches into her sophomore season. With a medical redshirt in hand, she sought a career on the beach, transferring four time zones over to the University of Hawai’i, thriving on the sand with Ari Homayun, finishing 29-6, named First Team All-Big West.

Her senior year was shaping to be much of the same. Nine matches in, partnered with freshman Maia Hannemann on court two, Scoles was 7-2 on a 7-2 Bows team whose only losses were close matches to UCLA and LSU.

Then Covid-19 happened, the remainder of the season was canceled — and Scoles was given another year of eligibility. This was not lost on USC coach Dain Blanton.

When he had first seen Scoles play, Blanton saw “her hit some balls that I haven’t seen AVP players hit,” he said. “I was like ‘Whoa! This girl packs a punch!’ She checks a lot of boxes and any coach would love to have that. She’s got something special.”

Even before Covid-19, Scoles knew she was going to transfer for her final year of eligibility. Academically, she was going to be finished at Hawai’i. She loved her time on the Island, and had nothing but effusive praise for her coaches and teammates there, but Hawai’i didn’t have the master’s program she sought. USC did. It also has one of the most prestigious names in beach volleyball, with a young, talented roster and an Olympic gold medalist as head coach.

“Carolina was hard to leave, too, but I explained to them what I was thinking and over Christmas break, that’s when I kind of figured out a couple options and looking into where I wanted to finish out my eligibility, somewhere that was aligned with something I wanted to do academically,” Scoles said. “I know that volleyball can be taken away from you in a split second. So I want to have something I’m passionate about outside of athletics, so when the sport does end, all my eggs aren’t in one basket.”

With the addition of Scoles, USC will now have a quadrant of experienced players who have first-court talent in Scoles, Sammy Slater, Hailey Harward, and Haley Hallgren, who was competing on No. 1 with Harward. Also returning are court three starters Nicole and Audrey Nourse and rising sophomore Kyla Doig. Highly touted incoming freshmen Delaynie Maple and Megan Kraft are also likely to enter the fold as immediate starters, adding depth to what is shaping up to be one of the deeper rosters in college beach volleyball.

“She’s the perfect type of player: tenacious, loves to work out, very physical and passionate about playing,” Blanton said. “That’s one of the biggest things in my criteria: Are you passionate? Do you want to play on another level? She answers all those questions. We’re putting together a pretty heavy squad of alphas who want to go hard.”

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