The University of Arizona Beach Volleyball team was cruising along with a 10-2 record after a sweep at UC-Davis with over a week to prepare for the Wildcat Spring Challenge, but that week turned into months with the cancellation of all spring competition.
The squad ended that road trip to California on Wednesday, March 11 and the Pac 12 put an official hold on all spring competition that Saturday, March 14 with hopes of rebooting everything on March 29 but that date came and went due to escalating concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was with my family when we got the message,” said senior transfer standout Carly Lowry. “I woke up Thursday morning to find our season canceled and it didn’t seem real but in my situation it turned into a blessing because I still had a semester of school and I was allowed to come back for another year.”
Lowry was an All-State indoor volleyball standout at Salpointe and the outside hitter also competed in basketball and tennis before concentrating on volleyball after her sophomore year. She was a first team selection in tennis on one of the most dominate high school squads in Arizona history so she could have easily gone in that direction but the draw of volleyball was too much to overcome.
Lowry was also fortunate to be playing volleyball at the right time in the state of Arizona. The AIA became the first organization in the nation to offer sand volleyball as a high school sport in 2012 with Salpointe entering the competition in the spring of 2016. Lowry helped guide Salpointe to a state runner up finish that spring and she also played in the first high school pairs tournament in the nation, the CatBox Classic, and it was held on the courts at the University of Arizona.
The CatBox Classic was hosted by Bill Lang of Ironwood Ridge High School and Walker Beach Volleyball, run by Arizona head coach Steve Walker.
She’s coming home! Help us welcome Tucson-native Carly Lowry back to the Old Pueblo via San Francisco, where she played indoor and beach volleyball!
Carly Lowry • Sr. • 6-0 • Blocker
Tucson, Ariz. (Univ. San Francisco) pic.twitter.com/pRvOhozz06
“I chose volleyball because of the team sport aspect,” Lowry added. “I liked the fun we had in club and high school with teammates and I attended coach Walker’s camps and I got recruited playing volleyball. Walker’s camp was the first place I put my feet in the sand and it will be the last place I will put my feet in the sand.”
Lowry played indoor and beach for San Francisco and her pairs partner in her junior year was former Salpointe standout Haley Howell. Howell was a graduate transfer from Siena and Lowry decided to enter the transfer portal herself for her own senior year and she was snatched up by Walker.
“Playing for Arizona was a once in a lifetime experience and I transferred because I wanted to push myself and play for the best program I possibly could,” Lowry added.
The March 29th date did come and go for the Pac 12 but the NCAA stepped in the following day to allow member institutions the option of bringing back seniors for another year of eligibility.
“I was welcomed back to the team by Coach Walker and I felt so lucky,” Lowry said. “As I mentioned, this is a blessing in my situation and everyone is coming back except for one senior. I can honestly say I’ve never been on a team that I enjoy as much as this one.”
Besides her All-State recognition in indoor volleyball and her recognition for tennis, Lowry was named to the Southern Arizona All-Decade Team for Indoor Volleyball and for Beach Volleyball.
LINK: MORE ON MAKENNA MARTIN
Fellow Wildcat seniors Makenna Martin, Brooke Burling, Natalie Anselmo and Olivia Hallaran will also be returning to the beach. Martin is a redshirt senior from Gilbert Arizona, Burling is from Illinois, Anselmo is from Los Angeles and Hallaran is a returning senior from Hamilton High School in Chandler.
Olivia Hallaran was a dominant force for Chandler Hamilton from 2012 to 2016, recording “video game” stats with over 1,000 kills, over 1,100 digs and over 120 aces. The mark of a great volleyball player is the ability to play anywhere and everywhere on the court and her stats proved she could serve, return serve and kill with ease.
She also helped lead the Huskies to back-to-back state runner up finishes in 2013 and 2014, with both championships going to five sets.
“I played varsity all four years and coach (Sharon) Vanis gave me a lot of responsibility and it was awesome,” Hallaran said. “It was quite an opportunity to play at the highest level.”
Unfortunately, Hamilton did not take part in beach volleyball until 2017 so Hallaran missed out on the high school experience but she made up for it on the club scene.
“My high school coached used me as a prime example of why they should have a beach volleyball team so she pushed for the sand courts,” Hallaran added. “I met coach Walker at a camp when I was in eighth grade and that’s how we met.”
Like the rest of her teammates, Hallaran had an idea her senior season might be cut short but the official news was still painful.
“It was disappointing and heartbreaking,” Hallaran said. “I found out on a text message after a road trip but then they told us we could come back from that unimaginable situation. I didn’t think it was honestly possible to let us come back like they did and I am full of gratitude for coach and I am completely thrilled.”
Hallaran was planning on spending her grad transfer at San Francisco State but the opportunity to play one more year at Arizona was an easy choice.
“I get to do what I love and the decision to come back was easy with no questions asked,” Hallaran added.
Hallaran has 49 career victories at Arizona which puts her 7th all time. Burling has 67 (4th) and Anselmo has 63 (5th). Madison and McKenna Witt graduated in 2017 with 86 wins each.
Q & A WITH COACH STEVE WALKER
Q: Carly Lowry and Olivia Hallaran conveyed their gratitude to the Arizona and to you specifically for welcoming them back for another year when some programs decided not to honor another year. Was offering the athletes another year a difficult decision?
A: There really wasn’t a choice, it was the right thing to do and it was the appropriate step for the NCAA to take. We felt for our senior class after they poured so much into the program, got out of their comfort zone and everything was trending in the right direction. It was important for all of our spring coaches really to honor our seniors and we have to thank (Athletic Director) Dave Heeke and his executive staff and we are excited for what is the best case scenario.
Tell me a little bit about getting someone like Carly Lowry to transfer to Arizona and I understand the extra year helped keep Olivia Hallaran on the team.
Anytime you have an opportunity to get decorated veteran players like Carly it becomes stabilizing and gives a program solid footing. They have a great feel for the college experience and Olivia was headed to San Francisco State and she is as sweet of a person she could be. That had to be a difficult call for her but the coach understood.
Can you describe the growth of the sport in Arizona, which really has no beach but was the first to make it a high school sport?
There’s no difference between Arizona, Southern California or Northern California. You have to look at the bigger picture and see how good the landlocked countries are at it. It’s not really a coastal sport. I’m amazed at how quickly the game has evolved at the club and high school level, there just isn’t enough court space to support the game at this rate. It’s incredible. We had a three to five year plan and we are ahead of that right now. When I’m looking for good players and I see them all in Arizona I want all of them.
Is it important to have local athletes on a beach volleyball team for community support like other programs?
The network is so small and it’s built primarily on indoor so when I saw a great local player like Carly in the transfer portal and she was playing at such a high level I knew I had to get her back to Tucson. We have local athletes like Alex Parkhurst and Summer McDonough on the team and we are bringing in Abby Russell and Miranda Erro so it shows the growth of the sport.
Can you talk a little about schools wavering on offering the sport of beach volleyball and what it could mean to young female athletes and the opportunities it opens up for them?
I would say it’s the fastest growing sport in the history of college athletics and it’s a sport that gives young women ample opportunity to participate in. There are over 80 D-I teams now and over 100 at all levels. We were given a 10 year plan and we were able to pull that off in half the time. And, using our team as an example, local talent can stay home and play for a great program and play the sport they love and it’s worth looking into and maybe even for the boys in the future.
It was a short season, but there were still plenty of highlights!
ARIZONA BEACH VOLLEYBALL TIMELINE
2011: NCAA adds Sand Volleyball as a Division I sport.
2012: AIA competition began with five teams in the Phoenix area. The sport was called “Sand Volleyball.”
2012: Former indoor Ironwood Ridge standout Michaela Christiaansen wins a national sand volleyball title with Pepperdine.
2013: University of Arizona announces addition of Sand Volleyball team.
2013: Grand Canyon starts beach volleyball under Kris Naber
2014: University of Arizona begins competition with Steve Walker as head coach.
2014: Arizona State begins competition under Jason Watson
2015: Benedictine Mesa starts competition under Sonia Jones
2016: Arizona coach Steve Walker named Pac-12 Beach Volleyball Coach of the Year
2016: Arizona plays in the NCAA tournament
2016: Salpointe and Ironwood Ridge begin competition.
2016: Salpointe is the D-I runner-up under Heather Moore-Martin.
2016: Ironwood Ridge and the University of Arizona host the first-ever high school Pairs tournament in the nation called the “CatBox Classic.”
2017: Ironwood Ridge plays a full schedule and makes the playoffs.
2017: Salpointe finished in the semifinal round
2017 Arizona Christian starts college competition under Micah Briscoe
2018: Amphitheater and Canyon del Oro field teams. CDO beats Amphi on Feb. 21. Amphi wins first match March 9.
2018: The Amphitheater School District builds world-class sand courts for Amphitheater, Canyon del Oro and Ironwood Ridge.
2018: Ironwood Ridge and Salpointe to the D-I quarterfinal round.
2018: AIA starts Pairs competition at state.
2018: Salpointe’s Peyton Lewis and Abby Russell come in second place in pairs.
2018: Salpointe’s Alanna Duarte and Madison Sundholm make it to the quarterfinal round.
2019: Ottawa University starts competition under Haleigh Carvalho
2019: The sport is officially called “Beach Volleyball” in Arizona.
2019: Marana fields a Beach Volleyball team and wins first match on April 5.
2019: Ironwood Ridge to the D-I quarterfinals.
2019: Salpointe to the D-II semifinals.
2019: Salpointe’s Alex Parkhurst and Abby Russell are the first Pairs champions from Southern Arizona.
2019: Canyon del Oro’s Haley Bronson and Katie Call make the D-II playoffs.
2019: Ironwood Ridge and Canyon del Oro host the CatBox Classic.
2019: Alex Parkhurst earns National All-American status.
2019: Arizona wins a record 25 matches
2020: Ottawa coach Haleigh Carvalho named AVCA Thirty under 30 Coach
2020: Benedictine Mesa coach Ray Lewis named AVCA Thirty under 30 Coach
2020: Mountain View Marana began play in D-I
Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017, a 2019 AZ Education News award winner and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019. Contact Andy Morales at email@example.com