It may seem difficult to imagine at first, what with a Pac-12 title, an NCAA Championship and an AVP final under her belt in the span of just a few weeks, but yes, Sarah Sponcil does struggle from time to time.
Take Spanish, for example, which is tough in college.
“I have not taken it since I was in fifth grade,” she said on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “ … So that’s been kind of a struggle.”
But on the court? It may take some digging to find a soft spot in Sponcil’s game. Partnered with Lauren Fendrick for the AVP’s season-opener in Austin, Sponcil won her first four career AVP main-draw matches in straight sets, setting up a final against April Ross and Alix Klineman.
“I think I just had that mentality –- people are going to be stronger, faster,” Sponcil said. “I think I just tried to put the pressure on, trying to stay aggressive. I think a lot of people go to shots if they get blocked, they kind of just do that. I felt like I was full force. I just want to swing, if I get blocked, I’ll just work around.”
She worked around Angela Bensend and Olaya Pazo, Caitlin Ledoux and Kendra VanZwieten, Janelle Allen and Kerri Schuh, Karissa Cook and Katie Spieler.
It was one thing to play alongside an Olympian and Stanford’s assistant coach, just as it was another to feel out the vibe of a professional event compared to that of a college one. But it was an entirely different feeling to play against Ross, the player Sponcil has looked up to since she began playing volleyball.
From being coached at 14 as a youth camper, to the age of 16 posing as a spectator, to the age of 21 facing off against you in the finals of an AVP. Nothing better than a chance to play against the best @AprilRossBeach
Thanks @avpbeach for putting on such an amazing event! pic.twitter.com/L1L2YXpolY
— Sarah Sponcil (@SSponcil) May 22, 2018
“I mean, you’re playing against April Ross,” Sponcil said. “I literally had pictures of her when I was like, 14 and 17. Just to be playing against her and seeing me stack up against her was really cool. It was a really great experience.”
She watched the film a few times, enough to know that she stacked up just fine. Ross and Klineman had only dropped a single set prior to the finals, yet there was Sponcil, pushing the two-time Olympic medalist to a 24-22 first set, and again to a 25-23 second set.
“We basically played a third game,” Sponcil said, laughing. “I felt like I was taking it point by point. I don’t know. I thought it was an amazing challenge. You look up to someone for so long and you don’t want to miss this opportunity. You want to show them like ‘Ok, I deserve to be here. It wasn’t a fluke that we were here.’
“Right after we lost, as long as we gave them a run for their money, that was ok with me. Just to be that close and within striking distance gives me hope and just makes you want to play that much more and get that much better so you have the opportunity to face off with them again.”
She will. There is no doubting that. She had to skip New York for her finals, though she plans on playing Seattle and the remainder of the AVP season, and she’s entertaining the possibility of sprinkling in some FIVB stops as well.
At the end of the day, it is this: Sarah Sponcil just wants to keep winning.
“I’m just trying to get to know the beach volleyball world,” she said. “Now it’s like ‘Ok this is a completely different world. Book your own flights, book your own practices with different people.’
“I’m just going to keep trying, keep getting into AVPs, and I’ll see what happens from there.”