After spending the summer playing beach volleyball, a pair of Cardinal Mooney standouts returned to the indoor court Aug. 1.
After spending the better part of the summer with her toes in the sand, Cardinal Mooney sophomore Sophia Hebda is readjusting to the hardwood.
Hebda, who spends roughly eight months of the year playing beach volleyball, returned indoors for the first official day of Cougars practice Aug. 1, which also happened to be the first day of tryouts.
It’s a welcome transition for the 15-year-old Hebda, who enjoys spending time with her Cardinal Mooney teammates, but it also comes with a learning curve.
Over the next couple of weeks, Hebda will have to retrain her body for indoor volleyball, focusing on timing, contacting the ball and jumping higher, among other technical aspects.
The high school season is the only time of year Hebda plays indoor volleyball after deciding to forgo playing club volleyball last year to focus primarily on beach volleyball. Although the opportunity allows Hebda to be a part of a team, something she doesn't normally get in beach volleyball, while representing her school.
But Hebda believes the sand’s ability to pull her in has only strengthened her jumping ability because she’s had to work that much harder to get vertical.
For the first time in nearly nine months, the Cougars setter is tasked with seeing the court in a new light. Having spent the majority of the summer covering half, if not all of the beach volleyball court, Hebda will once again share some of that responsibility with her Cardinal Mooney teammates.
“I like being a ball hog,” Hebda said. “In beach volleyball, you have to cover more of the court. It’s more about shots and being smart and not about power.”
Luckily, Hebda won’t be alone.
Cardinal Mooney senior captain Maddie McNally, who also spent the summer playing on the beach, will be by her side helping with the transition.
“In beach volleyball, it’s basically all on you,” the 17-year-old McNally said. “Indoor is a team sport, so you’re only one part, and there are five more parts on the team. It’s more intense and faster paced. It gives you that adrenaline run.”
Hebda and McNally, an outside hitter for the Cougars, both began playing beach volleyball the summer before their freshman year of high school.
McNally started playing beach volleyball to keep her involved in the sport throughout the summer when she wasn't playing indoors. Similar to McNally, Hebda began playing beach volleyball after her best friend, Alex Hilton, now a sophomore outside hitter for Riverview, encouraged her to try it out.
While McNally found beach volleyball to be something fun to do in between high school and club volleyball seasons, Hebda soon realized her future was on the beach.
Hebda opted to forgo playing club volleyball and spent the winter training on the beach.
“You get more touches on the ball,” Hebda said. “On the beach, you have to count on yourself more, whereas in indoor you’re counting on the whole team.”
Over the summer, Hebda attended beach volleyball camp at the University of Southern California. During the weeklong camp, Hebda met new people and saw a variety of different coaching styles, which she anticipates helping her as the Cougars’ season progresses.
“You have to be able to read what the other players are going to do on the court and be able to cover the amount of space that you need to,” Hebda said. “Communication is key.
“I feel like this year, I realized how hard you have to work to get to the college level,” said Hebda, who has aspirations of playing beach volleyball in college.
In addition to playing in the Dig the Beach Series and attending summer camp, Hebda practices a few times a week with former Cardinal Mooney standout Annie Montgomery, a 2016 graduate of Florida State University where she played beach volleyball.
“Beach is different because you have to have good ball control,” Montgomery said. “Sophia has smart vision, and she’s a good, smart player both indoors and on the beach.”
While Hebda was busy perfecting her game on the beach in California, McNally spent the first first couple weeks of the summer traveling to 14 colleges, stretching across the Eastern part of the United States from New York to Florida, including Villanova, Wake Forest, Clemson, the University of South Carolina, Georgia, Auburn and Miami, among others.
Unlike Hebda, McNally remains focused on indoor volleyball. When she's not playing for the Cougars, McNally plays travel volleyball for Tampa United and is looking to land a scholarship for indoor volleyball.
"I started playing indoor first and that's just always been my go to," McNally said. "I like the more power you have over the shots, and overall, I'm better at indoor. I have more power and I'm faster on the indoor court."
While she has yet to make a decision, McNally created a spreadsheet listing the pros and cons for each school, including size, sports teams, the importance of volleyball, school spirit and the overall feel of the school, which she hopes will help her later this year when the time comes to commit.
“It’s weird because I’ll be going to college in a year,” McNally said. “It’s really cool to see all of the colleges and the different styles of architecture. I definitely saw a wide variety of schools.”
Although Hebda and McNally have different goals when it comes to their volleyball futures, for this season, the two are on the same page.
The two have aspirations of improving upon last season’s 10-15 record and leading the Cougars deeper into the postseason.
“We have a different coach this year, who is very good,” McNally said of first-year coach Chad Sutton. “He pushes us, and I think we need that because we have a lot of potential.”