USC is the team to beat, but Julia Scoles has the story that can’t be beat.

This week in Gulf Shores, Alabama, Scoles will wrap up what turned out to be a seven-year volleyball career with more twists and turns than anyone could have imagined.

Will there be another NCAA beach championship to go with the one USC won last spring?

“Winning the national championship was just the icing on an already delicious cake,” Scoles said about 2021

Call this one the cherry on top if USC wins again.

Julia Scoles/Jim Wolf photo

Regardless, Scoles has triumphed in what really counts. She’s healthy and whole and happy. But it wasn’t always like that.

No, she’s the one who wrote for Volleyballmag.com in 2019, “I was left in an ominous, dark place.”

Luckily, she’s the same one who got smothered by her teammates when she and Sammy Slater won the match that clinched USC’s NCAA title last spring.

Concussions changed everything 

Scoles was the No. 6 recruit in the country according to PrepVolleyball.com when she left South Iredell High School near her home in Mooresville, North Carolina, for the University of North Carolina. And she wasn’t just a volleyball player: Scoles scored more than 1,000 points in her prep-basketball career and was a two-time state champion in the high jump and long jump.

Julia Scoles
Julia Scoles was the 2016 ACC freshman of the year

A 6-foot-1 outside hitter, Scoles tore it up at Carolina, where she was the ACC freshman of the year in 2016. But that was also the season she sustained her first concussion. Scoles missed part of that 2016 season and then took a medical redshirt after playing just six sets the next year. 

In 2018, we had a 12-part series about concussions in volleyball, and Scoles was mentioned in a story about North Carolina. But truthfully, she fell off my radar until March 2019, when this email came out of the blue:

My name is Julia Scoles, I recently transferred from UNC Chapel Hill to the University of Hawaii to play beach volleyball. I am just now seeing the segment regarding concussions on Volleyballmag.com and I wanted to thank you for shedding light on a topic in the volleyball community that has been kept in the dark for so long. I think awareness is a huge piece of knowing how to deal with and prevent concussions. If I had read these articles prior to receiving my head-impacts/head-traumas it would have changed the way I viewed and went about my recovery process. I understand I am contacting you much later from when the last article was published, but If you are interested I would love to contribute my personal story in hopes of reaching young girls in similar situations. Thank you again for making such a significant impact on the volleyball community.

Wow.

We corresponded regularly after that, visited in person for the first time when Hawai’i came to Gulf Shores in May 2019, and she eventually wrote her story, which posted on August 26, 2019. It was so well written and simply gripping.

The headline (with a link): Hawai’i beach player Julia Scoles’ gut-wrenching story of recovering from concussions

And it was indeed gut-wrenching to read. 

“A lot of stuff Julia talked about (in the article) we had no idea what she was going through,” her dad, Mike, said. “We had no idea on some of the stuff.”

Read her story and all the other concussion stories. Here’s a link to them all. As Julia wrote, “It took having three concussions for me to finally understand the severity and detrimental effects concussions can and will have.”

Her mom, Ginny, who played field hockey and ice hockey for Potsdam College, couldn’t believe what had happened to her daughter. 

“You look at every aspect of it that you can. You research it, call other parents who have gone through it,” Ginny Scoles said while sitting next to Julia. 

“We were trying anything. She couldn’t read, she couldn’t sleep, she was depressed, stuff she’d never had her whole life. It was awful.”

The good news here was that not only did Ginny laugh then, but so did Julia.

“It was absolutely awful.”

They both laughed again, but then Ginny got serious. 

“You never knew if you were gonna get her back,” she said. “If you were gonna get your kid back that was happy every single day of her life, and now she’s not.”

Making a big change and going to Hawai’i

It was a process, one that started with Julia’s giving up what she knew and going to Hawai’i.

“I quit indoor and started a new sport. I was so out of shape and indoor shape is very different from beach shape. So I wouldn’t say I wasn’t in beach shape when I was in my best indoor shape,” she said with a laugh. 

“The physical exertion and how taxing it is on your body every play.”

Scoles admitted that she disliked beach volleyball at first but grew to love it. 

“It’s such a hard sport and so different. Same basic skill set but applied in a much different way.”

All things considered, she has done pretty well.

In 2019, despite not being close to fully recovered, Julia had quite a good junior season for Hawai’i and made the all-Big West first team. In the NCAA Tournament, Hawai’i took a first-round loss to eventual champion UCLA, swept Cal Poly and Stetson, then got knocked out by USC. In that match, she and her partner never got to finish a match they were playing against Terese Cannon and — of all people — Slater.

In 2020, in what would have been her senior year, Scoles was 7-2 with partner Maia Hannemann, but then everything got shut down by the pandemic. 

She earned her degree in communications at Hawai’i. It was time to go but not time to stop playing. The folks at Hawai’i, she said, understood and were very supportive.

“I enjoyed Hawai’i but it was a little too far from home. I want to be able to call my mom after practice and it not be like 3 in the morning.”

Because she redshirted one year and everyone got another year from the NCAA because of the pandemic in 2020, Scoles still had two seasons left. 

She sent out some emails and got a response from USC assistant coach Gustavo Rocha. Scoles ultimately ended up USC. 

Which brought her to last season, where Scoles eventually partnered with Slater. 

Julia Scoles
Julia Scoles runs down a ball at Pepperdine during the 2021 season/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Fully recovered and winning it all

In the NCAA final, the Trojans were up 2-1 in the dual. Scoles and Slater won their first set against Lea Monkhouse and Devon Newberry 26-24, using a pair of devastating jump-serves from Scoles to seal it.

“The 1s had finished, and I knew it was going to come down to our court,” Scoles recalled. “The humidity was really bad that day, and I’m very sensitive to hot and cold and I almost felt sick. I really couldn’t enjoy it because I was so exhausted and felt a little out of it. But the moment itself was incredible. The team surrounding us the final few points. I remember going back to serve and seeing my team and thinking ‘This is our game.’ We knew we would finish it. Sammy finished with an ace. She like programmed the ball to detonate right on the line.”

That’s a pretty good way to describe it. The serve from Slater, a lefty, headed toward the back left corner and found the line for a 21-15 win and a national championship.

“I looked at Sammy and was like, ‘We won!’ And I ran and hugged her. and everyone was dogpiling, and I remember being in the moment and looking at everyone and thinking this was so cool, and then I remember looking at Gustavo.”

And Scoles started laughing as she described it.

“He was like screaming and laughing and crying, and it took me out of the moment. I started laughing because it was so funny. It was such a blast to just share it.”

Scoles was a VolleyballMag.com second-team All-American and made the Pac-12 first team in 2021.

Julia Scoles and Delaynie Maple celebrate a point earlier this season/Jenny Chuang photo

This year, Slater is playing with Megan Kraft, where they are 23-0 on court 2. Scoles is partnered with sophomore Delaynie Maple — five years younger — and they went 2-0 at No. 1, 5-0 at No. 2, and are 25-1 at No. 3, where they’ll be this week. 

What a journey.

“My faith got stronger, and I was prioritizing God, and I felt like he was answering prayers that I’d been praying for a long time,” said Scoles, who will turn 25 next month. “I felt his hand in everything and looking back I never could have gotten to where I am on my own. It really is all God.”

That’s not lost on her mom.

“We’ve learned more from her and her faith and her loyalty and perseverance than we would ever learn in our lifetime. We know eventually she would be OK, we just didn’t know when,” Ginny Scoles said.

“You appreciate every single second.”

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Great article about Julia! I’ve been following her careeer since I know her mother and uncle. Very happy for all her accomplishments in volleyball and life so far.

  2. Love this amazing story! I know Julia’s mother by staying at their cottage in Thousand Islands. Enjoy your accomplishments! 🙂

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