PANAMA CITY BEACH — Casey Justice and Eden Hawes don’t always play beach volleyball together. When they do, victories are sure to follow.
A pair of sophomores-to-be at Arnold, Justice and Hawes picked up a women’s AA championship and a runner-up finish in the girls Junior 16 Open division at an AVPNext Tournament in Fort Lauderdale on July 19-20.
The duo played in several tournaments across the country last summer, and this summer has been similarly hectic. Their successful trip to South Florida followed a tournament in Cocoa Beach and represented their final event together this summer.
“We played really well,” said Justice, who added a third-place finish while teamed with Gabby Crowley at the USAV Junior Nationals in Milwaukee this past weekend. “By the time we played in Cocoa Beach and in Fort Lauderdale, it was just miserably hot. When we got second (place), we were just tired.
“... We figured we better go down to the bottom of Florida for better competition. When we went to Fort Lauderdale after the Cocoa Beach tournament, we thought we’d really have to try to win. That’s what we did, and we played really well in the (women’s) AA tournament. We were just tired by juniors.”
As a team, Hawes’ and Justice’s success is predicated largely on outlasting opponents with their ability to dig balls and pass from inside the back line. When they face a team with a big hitter who can spike balls straight down, Justice handles blocking responsibilities at the net while Hawes covers the court behind her.
“We play pretty good, consistent defense, and the other team gets frustrated,” Hawes said.
Added Justice: “We usually just sit back and pass every game because we’re amazing diggers. ... We look at the opponent and see how they play, and we figure out a way to get around them.”
Tournaments abound seemingly anywhere there is sand during the summer, and players can find events sanctioned by numerous beach volleyball organizations around the state and region. Justice intends to play one final tournament in Port St. Lucie with a different partner this weekend, and Hawes said she is thinking about playing in the same tournament, too.
As summer winds to a close, Hawes and Justice will refocus their efforts toward indoor play with Arnold’s volleyball program and new Marlins coach Cheryl Henninger. Playing indoors, Hawes is an outside hitter, and Justice can play all three positions at the net. Both players made it clear, though, that indoor season fits into their year-long beach schedule and not the other way around.
“We play high school season so we can play with our high school friends, and it will be fun playing with the team,” Hawes said. “But, yeah, I’d say we do it more for fun.”
“I feel like I play a lot better beach-wise,” Justice added. “Indoor, there are six people on the court, and you have to communicate with five people. You get more touches on the beach, and you play more on the beach.
“The ball does not come right to you on the court indoors every time. On the beach ... you touch the ball on every single play.”