Even with school still in session, local youth volleyball players were heading to the beach in front of the Carousel Hotel in Ocean City, Md., on Saturday, June 3, to compete in the Junior Beach Tour (JBT).
Among the top finishers on the day were Selbyville Middle School standouts and sisters Raychel and Camryn Ehlers, who both helped the Indians to their second-straight undefeated season and perfect 10-0 record on the volleyball courts in the fall.
The older of the Ehlers sisters, Raychel Ehlers, took first-place at the June 3 event, in the 14U division, while teamed up with Wilmington’s Kyla Dow.
A rising freshman at Indian River High School fresh off her third career undefeated season at SMS after helping lead the SMS girls’ soccer team to a 10-0 record last month, Raychel Ehlers is no stranger to the sand, having also been selected for the High Performance Beach Championships in Hermosa, Calif., in July of 2016.
“Beach volleyball is awesome. I just have fun when I play and taking first place is always a bonus,” she said. “I really like doubles because there is no sitting the bench - it’s just you and your partner working it out in the sand.”
Fresh off her own successful spring after helping the SMS softball team to a 9-1 season as a sixth-grader, Camryn Ehlers took fourth place at the tournament while playing alongside Jordan Su from Washington, D.C., in the 12U division.
Other local players finishing on top included Ocean City’s Piper Connors, who saw a first-place finish on the day while competing in the 18U division with teammate Kristiana Witte.
After the tournament, Connors and both Ehlers sisters all earned chances to compete in the National Junior Beach Tour in Siesta Key, Fla., next month.
“I’m very excited to take the trip with Raychel, because I like having someone I know there with me, and I know that she will support me as we are there together,” said Camryn Ehlers. ”She always helps to make me a better player.”
They’ll head down for the tournament, slated for July 20 to July 26, together — but before that, they’ll also both head to the Zonal Championship in Georgia later this June, after both were invited to play with the A2 National Team.
“I feel honored to be asked to play on the A2 team, and I think it will really help improve my game,” said Raychel Ehlers. “They have national beach coaches that will work with you, and I’m really looking forward to playing against competition from all over the U.S. I know that the competition is going to be a lot harder, so I’ll have to work hard and stay focused.”
“I feel very ecstatic about being selected for the A2 team,” added Camryn Ehlers. “There are a lot of girls that try out, and they only take a few, so I was really surprised to have been chosen. My sister Raychel and I have trained hard to improve our skills, so we really just wanted to get better and learn from the camp, so it is very exciting to have made the team.”
While the Ehlers sisters said they were humbled by the accolades and invitations, they also said they were hoping to help grow the sport of volleyball at the local level.
The official program at SMS was launched two years ago and has yet to lose a game, after several years of advocating and club play led by SMS head volleyball coach Sally Craig.
SMS assistant coach Bill Croal and IR assistant coach Jay Clark added another youth opportunity shortly afterward, when they launched the IRSD Volleyball Skills Academy in the spring of 2016.
Now, serves can continue through the summer, with clinics offered on the beach in Fenwick Island for players in middle school and high school of all skill and experience levels.
“Playing beach volleyball has really helped improve my indoor game,” said Raychel Ehlers of the difference. “Playing year-round keeps you touching the ball, so it will definitely help me in high school.”
“I hope that more players from SMS and local schools start playing volleyball year-round, because it will help our teams compete,” added Camryn Ehlers. “Plus, I think volleyball is different than other sports in playing year-round, because you could play indoor in the winter and then beach in the summer, so it never gets boring.