When anything less than a national championship is a disappointment, an athlete has reached the very top of the upper echelon of that sport.
Lakewood Ranch beach volleyball player Ashley Pater, 17, is getting that view from the top.
After winning three championship events during the summer of 2021, Pater equaled the feat in 2022, in perhaps even more impressive fashion. She won each with a different partner.
Pater won the AAU Girls National Beach Volleyball Championships, held July 21-24 in Hermosa Beach, California, with partner Erin Inskeep of Los Angeles. She followed with a win at the AAU Junior Olympic Nationals, also held in Hermosa Beach on July 25-26, with partner Sally Perez of Morrisville, North Carolina.
Then on Aug. 11, Pater teamed with Jake Stimpfig of Redondo Beach, California, to win the CBVA 18U Coed Nationals in Huntington Beach, California. In all three cases, it was Pater's first time playing with her partners, yet she was able to create enough chemistry with each to conquer the rest of the field.
In a sport that emphasizes communication, it's one of Pater's most impressive qualities. Her communication skills and court intelligence have earned the 5-foot-8 Pater a scholarship to the University of Southern California, the defending NCAA beach volleyball champion.
"I'm not the tallest player out there," Pater said. "I definitely do not have the best vertical. I'm not the most athletic player. But I have a high IQ for the game. I know what is open (for scoring opportunities) and what is not. I have worked hard on my court vision and I have good hand contact compared to most other junior players, so I get good placement on my ball."
Pater has plenty of time to work on her craft. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pater took extra online classes in order to graduate from Lakewood Ranch High a year early. That goal was achieved in December 2021, so now Pater — who would otherwise be an academic senior — can schedule her days however she wants instead of spending half in a classroom.
She trains on the backyard beach volleyball court at the Pater family's house, and at courts in Los Angeles, where she is now renting an apartment. Pater said she travels between the two locations depending on her schedule.
When she's not on an actual court, she's in the weight room, or working on one of the three online college classes she's taking — which she said is not enough to become a burden. It will give her a lighter load as a freshman at USC next year.
There's little downtime in Pater's life, which is fine with her. She said the experience will get her properly prepared for the grind of college athletics.
"I plan it all out," Pater said. "I still find time to hang out with family and friends. It's a lot, but it is worth it. Every beach volleyball match I play means so much for me. I hate losing. I'm not OK with it. I always go out there with the same mindset and energy because I refuse to lose and winning is fun."
This month, Pater will add a new accomplishment to her growing list — representing the entire country.
Pater and her partner, Myriah Massey of Pickerington, Ohio, will play together for Team USA at the 2022 FIVB Beach Volleyball U19 World Championships, held Sept. 14-18 in Dikili, Turkey. They earned the honor by winning the World Championship Trials event held June 20-23 in Hermosa Beach. Like in Pater's other big wins this summer, the tournament was the first time the two had partnered together, but Pater said they quickly got along. Pater said Massey is quieter than she is, so Pater took time to hang out with her off the court to figure the best way they could use their combined skills and tendencies.
"It's a surreal feeling (representing the U.S.)," Pater said. "It's going to be awesome. I wouldn't want to do it with any other coach (Kristen Rohr) or any other partner. I'm dreading these next few days before I leave for the championships. I want them to fly by so I can be there. It's going to be a great experience."
The event will be Pater's first time playing internationally for the U.S., but not her first time interacting with international-level athletes. At the 2022 Charlie Saikley 6-Man Beach Volleyball Tournament, held Aug. 5-6 in Manhattan Beach, California, Pater played on a team with U.S. Olympic gold medalists April Ross and Alix Klineman.
Pater said Ross, a USC alum, talked with her about what to expect at the school and in international play, and wished her well. The two played on the back line together during the event, which Pater will never forget.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.