- November 1, 2017
Lakewood Ranch High junior Ashley Pater has committed to the nation's top collegiate beach volleyball program.
USC, the reigning NCAA beach volleyball champion which has won three of the last five championships overall, has offered Pater a scholarship.
The Trojans weren't alone in chasing Pater. UCLA, which won the two national championships not claimed by USC in the past five seasons, also offered Pater a scholarship in June, the first time programs could offer a scholarship during an athlete's junior year of high school. The sport was sanctioned by the NCAA in 2015.
Pater said she ultimately chose USC because of her rapport with the program's coaching staff and the beauty of the school's downtown Los Angeles campus.
When the offers arrived, Pater was thrilled but not surprised. She had been working hard for that moment for almost her entire life.
Pater said her family wanted her and her older sister, Brooke Pater, to try as many sports as possible as a child. They both landed on volleyball, and after a few years of playing both indoor and beach volleyball, they decided to transition to beach volleyball full-time.
For Ashley Pater, who is 5-foot-8, the move allowed her to focus on being a defensive dynamo, patrolling the back line of the court and nabbing anything that gets past her block-focused partner. She began to excel. Pater said it is her vision that sets her apart from other players.
"For example, if you watch the hitter drop her elbow and read that correctly, you don't have to be super quick," Pater said. "If I see that, I know they are probably going to hit it directly over the blocker, so it's going to be up to me. If they keep their elbow high, I know they're going to swing (attempt a kill), so I'll move to the side of the court where my blocker isn't because they can only cover half the net at a time. From there, I have to look at (the hitter's) shoulder positioning so I know exactly where they're going to hit it."
The Pater family had a beach volleyball court installed in its backyard four years ago to help both Ashley and Brooke with their training. Their mother, Lorraine Pater, said that before the court was built, it would take her daughters 45 minutes to get to practice, either on Siesta Key or at Sarasota's Bee Ridge Park, and another 45 to get back (on days without traffic). It was worth the cost — more than $10,000 — to give them that time back, Lorraine Pater said.
Now, three days a week, private coaches come to the Pater residence to work with them and a handful of other area players, on their game. Ashley Pater said she'll take one weekday off completely and is usually competing somewhere on the weekend. No matter what, she makes time to go on runs to help her cardio and does gym workouts to maintain her strength.
The routine has worked. This summer, Pater has won three national championship events. On July 4, she teamed with Tallahassee's Jordan Boulware to win the P1440 Girls Junior National in Tavares. The duo then won the Association of Volleyball Professionals Junior Nationals in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on July 23. On July 31, Pater teamed with Cypress, California's Zoey Henson to win the USA High Performance Junior Nationals in Fort Lauderdale.
Since her freshman year, Pater has set up her schedule to graduate a year early, taking extra classes that amounted to two or three extra hours of work a day, she said. This means she'll be done with high school at the end of this year. Instead of going to USC right away, Pater said she will be taking a gap year, moving out to California and training with the professional players, plus traveling to play in as many big events as she can. Pater said she thinks this is the best way to follow her dream of not just becoming a pro, but qualifying for the Olympics. The more she can accumulate that level of experience, the better, she said.
It's not just talk. This week, Pater is in Chicago to compete for a spot in the AVP Chicago Open. This will be Pater's second time competing in a professional event; she's just hoping to make the main draw, she said. Pater said whether she does or not, the chance to go against the best in the world will help her improve her game.
"I'm motivated to be the best in the world," Pater said.