SANDCAST: Julia Scoles, finding peace amid life’s biggest decisions

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SANDCAST 10/21/2020-Hawai'i beach volleyball-Julia Scoles
Julia Scoles digs for Hawai'i/UH Athletics

Julia Scoles can’t pinpoint exactly where the peace came from, nor does she really feel the need to know.

All she knew was that, in 2018, she had a choice to make. A series of concussions had all but ruled out her indoor career, just one season into a promising start at the University of North Carolina.

Where, she wondered, could she go next?

She looked West, to the California schools. Beach volleyball was close enough to indoor, she figured. The West had the best beach volleyball in the nation. But something wasn’t right. The schools were great, the programs fantastic, the weather all that it was hyped to be.

Still: Something was amiss.

“I didn’t feel at peace,” she said on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “I figured this is it, I’m not going to pursue beach volleyball, I’m not going to pursue this dream.”

But there was one more visit to make, to a school that couldn’t have been further, literally and figuratively, from her hometown in Mooresville, North Carolina: The University of Hawai’i, which resides on an island nearly 5,000 miles and six hours’ worth of time difference from Carolina.

Then it happened. She can’t explain it. The peace she had been looking for settled in, and none of it really made sense. Here was a girl who loved her hometown, who loved her relationships and her family, who wanted to stay at North Carolina so badly that she made a brief attempt at starting a beach volleyball team there — and she was moving half a world away? To play a sport she had never played? For one of the most prestigious names in the game?

“It’s hard to articulate and put in words, but like the Bible says, ‘it surpasses understanding,’” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense, but that happened a lot in my recovery process from the head traumas. I would be in significant pain and not know what my future looked like but I had this peace that surpassed understanding. I would still have anxiety and I would still stress out about things, but when you know, you know, and that’s kind of how it was for me.

“I was so thankful or Hawai’i because I felt like the coaching staff believed in me more than I believed in myself as a beach player. I probably wouldn’t have made the switch if they didn’t believe in me. Going out there, I was so scared, but faith is super important to me, and I felt like God was leading the way to that decision and that choice and looking back on it, it was a totally divine, God intervention type thing of Him leading me in that direction. Just being there was intimidating but I felt peace that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. All I was hoping to do was try my best and whatever the outcome is would be the outcome.”

The outcome was better, and continues to become better by the day, than she could have imagined.

Partnered with Ari Homayun, one of the winningest players in program history, whom Scoles affectionately calls her “mini coach,” Scoles went 29-6. In the season-opening tournament, the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Beach Classic, she was named the best attacker. A few weeks later, at the First Foundation Queen’s Cup, Scoles was named the Most Outstanding Player.

Not bad for someone who really didn’t know much about beach volleyball.

“If someone were to tell me how different the two sports were before I switched, I honestly would not have switched,” she said. “That initial transition, I didn’t know what I was doing, it didn’t align with my skill sets from indoor, I think I tipped five times in my whole career so off-speed shots were new for me and I’m still working on the different shots.

“Transitioning to beach for me was super hard at first, to the point where I was like ‘I don’t like beach volleyball.’ It was super frustrating, I wasn’t having fun with it, then once I started competition at Hawai’i and learned more about the game, I started having more respect and sheer love for it.”

By year two, she had settled in, a “night and day difference,” she said. “Everything fell into place. I knew it was the right decision then, but the year before it was like ‘What?’ You still have to have faith in those moments that are hard.”

And then, of course, as soon as she confirmed she had made the right choice, and Hawai’i was contending with the best teams in the country, and Scoles was 7-2, everything reversed once more. COVID canceled the season.

Scoles had another choice to make.

This time, however, the signs were a bit more straightforward.

Hawai’i didn’t have the masters program she wanted, but USC did. USC also had two other somewhat random and fortuitous happenstances: Two of Scoles’ friends from Carolina were looking to go to Southern Cal as well.

“It was a crazy, crazy moment, and I said ‘I’m supposed to go here,’” she said. “Even after that, it just continued to solidify.”

So she’s a Trojan now, Scoles. Living with Hailey Harward, Tina Graudina, and her two friends from Carolina. She has the masters program she wants, the ideal living scenario, the program with one of the most respected coaches in the game. Sure, COVID may still be making things strange, particularly on the West Coast, but she’s making it work.

Julia Scoles is still at peace.

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