These were the championships, and yet the coach lounged. Leaning back in the sand. One knee crossed over the other. Like a proud parent and not a head coach, she fiddles with her phone to film her athletes.
Mira Costa girls’ beach volleyball head coach Nancy Reynolds retired.
This was an important day; a breakthrough day. It was the first doubles championship in Southern Section history. As the wind whipped through banners wedged in the sand at the Newland Beach volleyball courts in Huntington Beach on Wednesday afternoon, the result was inevitable before the start of the finals.
A few participants clapped from beach chairs. Traffic on the nearby Pacific Coast Highway groaned. Mira Costa’s Charlie Fuerbringer and Erin Inskeep would meet Tanon Rosenthal and Savanna Lau of…Mira Costa.
“Let’s go, Costa!” yelled one parent, and no matter where they sat, nothing would go wrong.
Mira Costa Beach Volleyball has not lost a game as a team since 2012 and has since played in the Interscholastic Beach Volleyball League. It won the first team title of the southern section of beach volleyball last weekend. So when work was done, Reynolds flopped down on the sand under the blanket of a Mira Costa tent and enjoyed it.
The athletes before her didn’t need a coach if you asked her. Fuerbringer, one of the top indoor talents in the country and daughter of former pro Matt Fuerbringer, heads to Wisconsin; Inskeep, a beach project by Cal Poly, won the AAU 18U national doubles title over the summer; Rosenthal is playing at the University of Arizona next year.
In straight sets, they fought Mustang in a championship match that looked more like a hard-fought scrimmage. Fürbringer, top-class setter in the indoor game, bent a cannon arm onto spikes. Inskeep found every inch between the boundaries of the clay court with her shots.
From a chair nearby, 6-foot-8 AVP pro Ed Ratledge marveled at his company VolleyOC, the tournament’s sponsor.
“That wasn’t going to change,” he told a Southern Section representative, watching the couples walk back and forth. “I wouldn’t change that. Wouldn’t change The.”
“You’re fluent in this game,” Ratledge said a few minutes later. “Absolutely fluent in this game.”
Fuerbringer and Inskeep won two close sets, 21-19 each, to take home the Southern Section’s first pairs title. More hardware for a school that has become synonymous with volleyball in Southern California.
“We’ve obviously had a program for a long time,” Reynolds said. “That’s why we’re so deep. … Hopefully we can lead the way and pave the way for all of these other programs.”
The first year of Southern Section beach volleyball was a real-time experiment, as the volleyball committee had to seed Division 1 and Division 2 programs with no prior history. Many schools have at times struggled to balance beach programs with athletes also playing during indoor club season.
“It was difficult to get some of these athletes to spend some time on the beach,” said Harvard-Westlake coach Mitch Kallick, who coached the sisters and coached California Beach players Bella and Alex Adishian in a back-and-forth back-and-forth Matchup against Inskeep and Fürbringer committed in the semifinals.
As club teams have become more prominent, some of the heritage and importance of local high school programs has been lost, Reynolds said. But over time, Assistant Commissioner Mike Middlebrook said, the South Section hopes the high school beach season will take precedence.
“That’s what colleges know — they look at clubs, obviously beach volleyball,” Middlebrook said. “And now we want to come out and say: It’s more than just a club.”
Fuerbringer, a junior, and Inskeep, a senior, have been aiming for a high school beach title since playing together at Mira Costa. On Wednesday they delivered – against their teammates.
“Kids still grow up wanting to do it — wanting to play for Costa,” Reynolds said. “I want to win a ring.”