It was at 9 a.m. on May 6, 2016, in a match most every person in the world of beach volleyball has likely long since forgotten, when Sara Putt made history.
On court one in Gulf Shores, Ala., Putt and Vendy Strakova played the first point in an NCAA Beach Volleyball National Championship, against Florida State’s Jace Pardon and Julie Brown.
Putt will think you have forgotten this otherwise-innocuous match, between No. 8 Stetson and No. 1 Florida State, because, at the creaky age of 24, she is just so darn old. Which is exactly why she enjoys reminding the teenagers with whom she’s currently playing — her partner, Raelyn White, is 19 — at Florida State that, yes, that was her who played in the first NCAA Championship match in the sport’s history.
“It’s a historical fact that because I’m old I like to bring up,” Putt said on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “It was so cool. It was the coolest thing ever. But yeah, I’m old, man.”
She is at once old and not old at all. For a college athlete, yes, 24 is certainly one of the higher numbers you will find on a roster. Putt is the beneficiary of both a red shirt year, required when she transferred from Stetson to Florida State, as well as an extra year due to COVID canceling the 2020 season. It worked out perfect for Putt, considering that her 2020 year would have been hampered by a broken hand and for the fact that she wasn’t going to graduate until this year anyway, with a masters in dietetics that called for an extra two years of schooling.
But it is still an amusing little statistic that she has now spent nearly a fourth of her life at Florida State, her mother’s alma mater and the school she grew up dreaming of attending.
“Now I’ve been here for so long and I’m used to it,” Putt said. “But I try to think back to when I was younger and I was so stoked to go to Florida State.”
And Florida State, whether coach Brooke Niles needs the reminder or not — she does not — should be equally stoked to have had Putt for so long. Since Putt’s arrival in Tallahassee, Florida State has won the CCSA Conference Championships five straight years, despite the steep rise of the LSU program and the consistent progress of TCU. After earning the No. 3 seed in this weekend’s NCAA Championship, the Seminoles are now the only program in the country to have made every National Championship. Putt has won 94 matches at Florida State, and 126 total in her collegiate career.
Her resume, both as a player and student, is lengthy.
“It’s been a huge blessing just to be able to play,” Putt said. “It’s easy, when you love it, just to keep playing.”
Her final NCAA Championship will begin this Friday against Stanford in Gulf Shores, where she will attempt to add to the history she began making in 2016. Florida State has made the finals in two National Championships, falling short both times. Putt has the rare opportunity to leave as both the first player to compete in an NCAA Championship match with one program, and the first to win the Championship with another.
After that? She doesn’t know. The last 10 years of her life has been “school and volleyball, and finding the balance between the two,” she said. “Now it’s going to be work and volleyball, and what kind of job do I get?”
Maybe she’ll get a part-time job. Maybe she’ll put her degree to use right away. All she knows for certain is that “I’m going to play volleyball until I can’t walk anymore,” she said. “I’m going to be that old lady one-balling. It’s everybody that plays this sport, it’s so fun, and I love it. The question is how high of a level am I going to try to get to and how much time to I want to devote to volleyball and how much to having a career and starting a family? I feel old but I’m also pretty young, so if I want to set some big goals on the AVP or international, I don’t know, it’s such a self-motivated sport: find your own partner, your own coach, your own PT, you have to set everything up. If you don’t set it up, it’s not going to happen. How much are you willing to sacrifice to be an athlete?
“For the last 10 years it’s been school and volleyball, and finding the balance between the two, and now it’s going to be work and volleyball, and what kind of job do I get? Do I get a better job and play less, or do I get a remote, BS, part-time job and play all day? I think it’s cool that anybody can be a pro if you apply yourself.”