Choctawhatchee High School made a decision last summer to launch the school’s first-ever beach volleyball team, joining the ranks of Crestview High School in introducing this sport to the Okaloosa County School District.
- With Destin High School already offering beach volleyball last year, the expansion of this sport is an exciting development for female athletes in the area.
Head Coach Challiss Topolski (who coaches Indoor Volleyball at Choctaw) shared that the idea to start the team came from the desire to provide more opportunities for female athletes to participate in sports, especially in an area known for its beaches.
“We live at the beach, so why are we not playing beach volleyball?,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to offer a sport to our female athletes in the Spring season that wasn’t offered before.”
However, the transition from indoor volleyball to playing on beach sand has not been easy for the team. Topolski herself had no background in beach volleyball, and the players have had to learn new rules and adjust their techniques accordingly.
- She explained, “The touches are different. How a ball can be set is different. How it can be hit over the net, and if your hand can be closed or not…even just jumping and moving in the sand creates an obstacle that I don’t think some of these girls were expecting. They’re used to being able to slide on the gym floor, and when you dive in sand, you don’t slide. You stop.”
The challenges of playing beach volleyball have not discouraged the team. In fact, the players have embraced the opportunity to learn and improve their skills.
“We have to work a lot on conditioning, working on adjusting our approach jumps so that they’re less of a broad jump and more of a straight up,” Topolski shared. “Working on learning new defenses and going from having six girls on the court to having just two. It also helps their communication on and off the court.”
The team also faced tough competition in their first-ever match against Gulf Breeze High School, whose team has played beach volleyball for years. Choctaw played their first match against Gulf Breeze and lost on Monday, but it only motivated the team to work harder.
“They were our first match and it was not pretty, but it put a fire under these girls to get better and put in the hours to improve,” she said.
And improve they did. The team secured their first win against Marianna High School with a final score of 4-1 on Thursday.
Topolski expressed her pride in the team’s progress, sharing, “Even yesterday when we were playing matches against Marianna, the way that they were communicating with each other and being smart on their game decisions, it was a completely different team that played yesterday as opposed to the one that played earlier in the week.”
Beach volleyball also offers opportunities for college recruiting and scholarships. According to Topolski, it’s a competitive sport in South Florida and the Tallahassee area, so to get the Panhandle more on the map with FHSAA, the school thought it would be a good addition to the sports already offered at Choctaw.
However, starting a new program is not cheap. The team had to provide all new uniforms and transportation, and they are currently working with VerticalRaise to fundraise in order to cover the costs of the season. Each player is raising a minimum of $500, but the team is hoping to secure sponsorships and funding to build their own courts on campus. Click here to donate.
- “We are lucky enough that Fort Walton Beach Recreation Center is letting us use their courts to host all of our home matches, but we are hoping to get sponsorships and funding to build our own courts here on the Choctaw campus,” Topolski shared.
Building their own courts would be a significant step for the program, as it would allow the team to host home games on their own campus rather than having to use the city courts. The team is hoping to start with two courts and expand to four as the sport continues to grow in popularity.
Bailey Gable, a Junior at Choctaw, expressed her excitement about the new program, saying that it provides an opportunity to experience all facets of the sport in their coastal area.
- “It makes me really excited to be playing beach volleyball and I’m excited to get more time in the sand. I think it’s really important because we live in a coastal area, and we now get the opportunity to see all facets of the sport,” she shared.
Senior Iyonnie Sanford initially thought beach volleyball would be something just for fun, however, that has quickly changed this week.
“At first I thought it would be just for fun but now after playing, I actually want to go far with beach volleyball and win more games,” she said. “I’m excited for the memories, getting better at volleyball, and learning more things about it.”
“The growth that these girls have made over just a short period of time is remarkable,” said Coach Topolski. “I love watching their enthusiasm and excitement for the sport grow and can’t wait to watch them continue to develop and grow as athletes and young women.”
The Indians will travel to Santa Rosa Beach for their next match against South Walton High School on Monday, March 13 at 3pm.