HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — Delaynie Maple has been aced before. She’s shanked passes. Made errors both mental and physical. She’s been frazzled. That’s a favorite word of hers, frazzled. Used it four times in a single sentence during an hour-long podcast. But beyond the word itself, what Maple loves most is her ability to look anything but.
That ace that just pinged off her forearm? No problem. The block on her angle swing? Good luck doing that again. The error? A rarity that won’t happen twice. That’s what she’ll show you, anyway. That’s what you’ll read on the outside. Her body language tells the story of a 5-foot-10 20-year-old who is cool and calm and strong as a summer sea.
On the inside?
There were times, Maple admitted on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, that “I’d be freaking out, but as long as I didn’t show it, I knew they didn’t know that. Anyone can win on any given day and it comes down to who’s more mentally stable and not get mental if they shank a ball or hit a ball out.
“I feel like that’s what made our team really good last year is that you could ace them twice and their mentality would be the exact same. They’d be fine. They’d side out and be good. That’s not just athletic stability. That’s your own mentality, being confident in yourself.”
She’s a mental fortress, Maple. As she very well needs to be. In her first two years at USC, she paired with two of the most talented players on the roster in Julia Scoles and Megan Kraft. She knew, when one partner had a bazooka for a right shoulder and the other was one of the smoothest side-out players in the NCAA, that “I’m going to be the target going into every game, and I was ok with that,” Maple said. “As long as I show the other team that I’m not upset, I’m not frazzled, they’re not getting in my head — because sometimes they would be.”
Rarely did an opposing team burrow their way into Maple’s head far enough. She went 26-3 as a true freshman with Joy Dennis in 2021. Seven months later, in Phuket, Thailand, she won the U-19 World Championship with Kraft, overcoming a first-set loss in the opening round of the elimination phases to a talented Dutch team. They ultimately recovered with second- and third-set wins of 21-8 and 15-10, and wouldn’t drop another set throughout the remainder of the tournament.
“You’re going to be nervous,” USA coach Jose Loiola told them then. “But don’t think you have to lose because you’re nervous. You can still win.”
That was a flip of the mental switch for Maple: to acknowledge the nerves, the butterflies, and simply make them fly in order. They’d fly in order during her sophomore season, all right: 36-1 she went with Julia Scoles on courts one through three, remaining the target for virtually every team’s serve, every team’s defensive strategy. Physically, some of it may have worked.
Mentally? No team would ever know.
“I used to let myself get really mad when I’d make errors and I’d see it snowball,” Maple said. “I realized at a point I can’t keep doing this. I’m just not going to be successful doing this. I’ve just realized that mentality is what wins and loses games and that was something I tried to do last year was stay as steady as I could. I realized how much if you show your emotion it’s so visible to the team you’re playing.”
It’s a mentality that is wise beyond her years, a learning curve expedited, no doubt, by the obscenely talented roster she joined when she enrolled as a freshman in 2020. In practice, she’d have to navigate the block of Tina Graudina, the Latvian Olympian and two-time European Champion. She’d have to put shots down on the defense of Hailey Harward, an AVP winner. She’d have to pass the bombing serves of Scoles, another AVP champion, and defend the slick and crafty offense of Sammy Slater, a consummate winner in her time at USC. Beyond that: She was able to see, on a daily basis, the habits and practices, physical and mental, of some of the best college players in the country, and in Graudina’s case, one of the best blockers in the world.
“Being a freshman stepping onto that was really nerve-wracking because you’re playing next to some of the most insane volleyball players I’ve ever seen, but then I think once I got to know everyone off the court and I got to know how phenomenal they were as people, I got so much more comfortable because I thought ‘oh, they’re normal people too, amazing people,’ ” Maple said.
“We had two phenomenal coaches and then we had 23 awesome coaches too. It was such a humbling experience hitting against Tina and Julia and Meg [Kraft]. I always thought our hardest competition was practice. Practices were so competitive. It was so nice because I put myself into the mental space of this is a real game playing in practice against these girls, and once I got to a game, I thought ‘Oh it’s just a game.’ ”
A game at which she has become awfully good. USC coach Dain Blanton will need all of Maple’s education this season as well, the first in recent memory in which the Trojans could be viewed as minor underdogs. Thirteen of the 24 players on USC’s 2022 NCAA Championship-winning team graduated. Gone is the court 1 pair of Graudina and Harward. Gone is court 2’s Slater. Gone is court 3’s Scoles, as well as transfer starter Sunny Villapando. It’s a young team in Los Angeles this year, led by a pair of juniors in Kraft and Maple, the senior Nourse twins, and a handful of experienced transfers in Madison Shields (Pepperdine), Jenna Johnson (Florida State), and Ashlyn Rasnick-Pope (LSU).
“We lost a huge majority of the team. It was definitely a different fall,” Maple said. “But at the same time it was so much fun. The crew we got in was awesome. We have three phenomenal transfers and they’re also great people. And then we have seven freshmen. So I have a really big class, but we love all of them — all of them, you can totally tell are so mature for their age and they came in super prepared, they’ve been working so hard and it’s been a different experience. It’s been so much fun. I’ve been telling everyone that I was really not worried, but I was scared because it’s going to be such a different experience. I lost a lot of my closest friends. I was just worried that I’m not going to know a lot of people. But then within like the second week, I was like, ‘This is going to be awesome.’ ”
What? Did you think Delaynie Maple would be concerned?
Maybe she is. We’ll never know, not by looking at her outward demeanor, anyway.
“I knew what it took to make a winning team and how to replicate it with new girls,” she said. “I caught onto all of those habits that those girls did last year and I tried to replicate that and put that into all the new girls’ heads this year. They’ve been like sponges. They’ve all be so open to get better, grow, get out of their comfort zone, and our three transfers have been awesome, implementing what worked on their team. Everyone on our squad is so open to going all in.
“I have full faith. I’m excited. I’m excited to see things finally go. It’s going to be really fun. Everyone on the team has the right mindset and I’m excited to see it all implemented.”