Sarah Sponcil was close to tearing her hair out.
She had nearly a week’s worth of schoolwork to make up in just a short time at Phoenix Veritas Prep.
Certainly not easy, but it was worth it.
The senior had just returned from a whirlwind trip to Puerto Rico, where she and teammate Zana Muno won the two-player sand volleyball title in the North America Central America Caribbean Volleyball Federation (NORCECA) Central Zone Tournament.
By defeating Canadian twins Megan and Nicole McNamara 21-19, 19-21, 16-14, on Sunday (Dec. 8), Sponcil and Muno qualified for a spot in the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, from Aug. 16-28, 2014.
Sponcil said this is one of her career highlights, and she has had many. She has played on numerous all-star teams, won three state championships at Veritas and is a three-time recipient of the azcentral.com Small School Player of the Year honor.
Sponcil has honed her craft on southern California beaches the last several summers. It has given her an increased awareness of where she, her teammates and opponents are and what to do with the ball when she gets it.
“We have played sand volleyball at a couple of places here, but when you play in California, it’s a different world,’’ Sponcil said. “Over here, you think you are pretty good and then you go over there. The sand here is about two inches on top of dirt. Over there, it is deep and you sink in. You have to adjust to that and be ready for anything.’’
The Loyola-Marymount (Calif.)-bound Sponcil (sand and indoor) played with Peoria Centennial’s Maddie Mertz (Tulane) and had played against Muno (UCLA) before. She and Muno decided to team up for some tournaments in late summer and went on to win the Cal Cup Youth Beach Volleyball Tournament.
NORCECA officials took notice. About 10 days before the tournament in Puerto Rico started, Sponcil received a call asking if she and Muno would be interested in playing. She and Muno quickly made travel plans and boarded the big silver bird. Sponcil was accompanied by her father, Wayne, a long-time volleyball coach in the Valley and an assistant coach at Veritas for head coach Wes Goodwin.
“It was kind of late notice and we had to make a quick decision. It was something we felt we couldn’t pass up, It was an honor to play in the tournament,’’ Sarah said.
“I’m kind of freaking out right now having to make up the schoolwork, but this was once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’’
Sponcil flew to Los Angeles on Wednesday, Dec. 4, and flew to Puerto Rico on Thursday, Dec. 5. She and Muno had time for a light practice session on Friday (Dec. 6), and they played four matches on Saturday (Dec. 7) and the semifinals and finals on Sunday. Sponcil returned home Tuesday (Dec. 10).
Sponcil and Muno developed a good working relationship pretty much from the start.
Teams such as Olympic gold medal winners Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Misty May-Treanor have a certain strategy. Walsh is 6-feet-2 inches tall and May is about 5-9, so Walsh handles a lot of the blocks and May’s main point of concentration is defense.
Sponcil and Muno are nearly the same height (about 5-10).
“We split the blocks. We are pretty versatile. I’d say we are more or less identical players,’’ Sponcil said.
She is leaning toward a career in sports medicine. The curriculum at Veritas is strict and tough, but she said she has survived with As and Bs.
“I just want to be involved with sports in the future,’’ she said. “It has allowed me to experience a lot of things.’’