SoCal beach volleyball players star at AVP Junior Nationals


They came from Texas. They came from Florida. They came from North Carolina and Arizona, even Montana.

The AVP Junior Nationals returned to Hermosa Beach this past week, and on paper, it seemed a chance for top local talent to strut their stuff on familiar Southern California sands.

The entry list, though, was teeming with out-of-state talent. Out of 124 entrants in the girls’ 18U field, fewer than 15 were pairs from the Los Angeles area. Beach volleyball is widespread in Southern California, said Cypress High indoor star and entrant Zoey Henson, but training is stricter in other areas.

“Those out-of-state girls, they’re grinders,” Henson said.

Nevertheless, a few local pairs did their best to steal the show over the weekend.

“California beach volleyball,” said Marymount High’s Ingrid Timon-Johnson, “is better than any other state.”

Timon-Johnson and others came oh-so-close to driving that flag into the sand Sunday, one of two local pairs to advance to the semifinals of the girls’ 18U field. Manhattan Beach Mira Costa’s Erin Inskeep and Anaheim Esperanza’s Clara Stowell, seeded 12th at the start of the tournament, swatted down tough competition to advance to the finals before falling 2-1 (21-15, 19-21, 15-10) to a tandem from Flower Mound, Texas, that was seeded 118th.

Inskeep and Stowell hadn’t been the most frequent partners in AVP events last year, but hummed in perfect rhythm Sunday, often utilizing the versatile Inskeep as a setter and the taller Stowell as an emphatic finisher. In the quarterfinals, they knocked off top-seeded Florida/Pennsylvania pair Alexis Durish and Sarah Wood, then took down Inskeep’s former Mira Costa classmate and No. 2-ranked Jenna Colligan in the semis.

Inskeep and Stowell are committed to beach — Inskeep to Cal Poly, Stowell to Stanford. Keep an eye on this trend: talented local indoor players making a full pivot to the beach game, which offers a new challenge and less wear and tear.

“I love how the sport is growing really fast,” Stowell said.

Timon-Johnson and partner Finley Rollins, who just graduated from Torrance Bishop Montgomery, came in ranked 36th but went on an undefeated run through the first two days of qualifying to move up to the top seed for the top-tierGold bracket, Timon-Johnson said.

“Honestly, I’m surprised I’ve made it this far,” Timon-Johnson said after a win in the round of 16. She and Rollins tied for fifth.

Kelly Belardi, a key part of Marymount’s state championship indoor team last fall, tied for ninth with Macey Butler (Texas). Also tying for ninth were Alexandra Adishian (Studio City Harvard-Westlake) and Emma Donley (Menlo).

Twins Tawny and Skylar Ensign from Santa Ana Mater Dei, who operate with the kind of Vulcan mind-meld on the beach reserved for sisters who’ve spent a lifetime together, won the second-tier Silver bracket.

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