Q: HOW DID YOU GET INTO VOLLEYBALL, AND WHY BEACH VOLLEYBALL IN PARTICULAR?
A: I started on my first club team when I was six. My parents played in co-ed church leagues, and I think that’s how my sister and I started to pick it up. I started to go to volleyball tournaments when I was eight or nine, and then in eighth grade I started going out to California for beach volleyball. I just wanted to see how I stacked up against those girls and then when I started to take it more seriously, I started going out there regularly on the weekends. I love the strategy and creativity and physicality of beach volleyball; no two plays are the same, and you must be able to do everything. I think it’s much more demanding and interesting than indoor volleyball.
Q: IS THERE ANYONE FROM YOUR HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC OR ACADEMIC YEARS THAT STOOD OUT TO YOU, OR WAS AN INSPIRATION?
A: In terms of athletics, I would have to say my dad. He coached me since I was three or four, and then was my assistant coach through high school. Memories of winning state titles with my sister as a senior on the team when I was a freshman, with my dad there as coach, are close to me. Being able to ride this journey with him has been really special. A teacher that I always looked up to and really admired was Mr. Sullivan, who was my Latin teacher at Veritas. Whatever he said in class, or just in passing, you always wanted to listen to him. I felt like he had all this life knowledge—he was like a big ball of wisdom.
Q: WHICH ATHLETES DO YOU LOOK UP TO? WHO INSPIRES YOU?
A: I have always looked up to Stephen Curry: for his discipline in the sport, and for the way he changed the game of basketball. A lot of athletes just play their sport, but who’s going to challenge it and make it better? Stephen Curry has done that for basketball, and I would love to do that for beach volleyball, to play beach volleyball in a way that no one has ever played it before. It is not just Curry’s athletic abilities but how he is as a person—I haven’t met him but one of my trainers at UCLA works with him and says he’s just a very humble guy. I think to have such high status and still be humble and be a family man, I think that embodies what it means to be a whole-hearted professional athlete: I think it’s hard to find those types of people.
Q: HOW DID YOU BALANCE ACADEMICS AND ATHLETICS IN HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE?
A: Veritas really prepared me for college in terms of time management. High school was much
more challenging than college. I remember doing homework till midnight and wondering “how am I going to get up and practice for two hours, and eat, and have a social life, and get all this homework done?” But it trained me to discipline myself and manage my time, and after that college was a breeze. I’m not very academic, so in high school I had to work extremely hard to get a C- or a B+. My parents even offered me to go to a different school, but I decided to stay at Veritas, and I’m very grateful I decided to stick it out.
Q: WHAT’S BEEN THE MOST EXCITING MOMENT OF YOUR ATHLETIC CAREER?
A: The most exciting moment was qualifying for the Olympics in June 2021. In high school, I
had collages up in my locker of all the beach Olympians. You have the vision and getting there took so much work and sacrifice, but that moment made all that worth it. It was the craziest year of my life: graduating from college and two days later leaving for five months on the road trying to qualify for tournaments. It was so crazy and I’m just so grateful that we surpassed Kerri Walsh and Brooke Sweat. Kerri Walsh is a four-time Olympian and when I was at Veritas, she was the it-girl, winning three gold medals. So, to then surpass her was a cool moment.
Q: WHAT ARE YOUR LIFE AMBITIONS?
A: I want to always love playing beach volleyball. I would love to go to two or three more Olympic games, but I think that as long as I’m playing with a good partner, I’m loving the game, and I’m loving my coach, I’ll play as long as I can. I’m excited to branch out eventually: I’d love to write a book one day, I’d love to do a lot of different things, but right now I’m sticking with beach volleyball and seeing where that takes me.
Q: WHAT ADVICE OR WISDOM DO YOU HAVE FOR HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETES?
A: If you have people around you who support you, and don’t like you just for what you do, anything is possible. You can’t accomplish anything alone, so my biggest advice is to know who your support system is and to stick with them. A lot of people don’t think that they are enough, and that’s why it’s important to be surrounded by people who make you feel like you are enough. Your family, close friends, mentors, or whoever they may be: those are the people you want to have around you if you’re winning or if you’re failing, it doesn’t matter. They’re always going to be there for you, and they’re going to be the people who will always hope that you fulfill your dreams.
Sarah Sponcil, a Great Hearts Veritas Preparatory Academy alumna (Class of 2014), is a professional beach volleyball player and a UCLA graduate. While playing for the Bruins, she won the back-to-back National Championships in beach volleyball — 2018 & 2019. She completed her first Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) and Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) season in 2019. In 2021, Sarah competed in the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Image: Sarah Sponcil celebrating during beach volleyball match at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Kim E. Smith