The following, maybe shocking, cease on Sarah Sponcil’s volleyball profession, as a extremely touted participant on the upstart Grand Rapids Rise within the inaugural season of the Pro Volleyball Federation, started in an unlikely spot: Kenya.
This previous Might, Sponcil visited Kenya, partly to see her good buddy Gaudencia Makokha, whom she met competing on the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Video games, partly to assist a non-profit group, World concern, “an incredible group devoted to serving folks in excessive want as a result of they’ve an excessive calling — to be the palms and ft of Jesus to a damaged world,” Sponcil wrote this past May.
“They carry clear water to the thirsty, they assist feed the hungry, they offer consolation to the exploited, traumatized, and forgotten. They actually work with folks left behind, past the tip of the street.”
Whereas with Makokha, Sponcil joined the Kenya indoor nationwide group for practices as they ready for the African Championships, rediscovering her dormant love for the indoor model of the game she left in 2017 after starring as a setter for UCLA.
“You sort of neglect about it. You neglect in regards to the recollections, you neglect in regards to the folks, you neglect in regards to the group,” Sponcil stated on Tuesday morning. “I’m simply so excited to open that door once more. Going to Kenya was the most effective journeys of my life. I’ll say it till I die.”
What function Sponcil will play for the Rise, she isn’t fairly certain but. Neither, for that matter, is Rise coach Cathy George, though it’s almost definitely she’ll be a setter and/or libero.
“Sarah is the all-around volleyball participant, having performed each single place apart from center blocker. She has an in depth background in seashore volleyball, which can be barely totally different from the indoor sport, however she is a pure at no matter she does and I’m certain she shall be able to play come January,” George stated.
“Sarah has represented Group USA on the Olympics, and the mindset you will need to develop with the intention to compete at that degree is extraordinary. Sarah has massive targets, whether or not it’s to play within the Olympics, indoor or outside, and I like the boldness and mentality she brings to our membership.”
The Rise are considered one of six groups within the PVF, which is able to start its inaugural season this January. The Rise will compete in opposition to the Atlanta Vibe, Columbus Fury, Omaha Supernovas, Orlando Valkyries, a San Diego-based group and another group that shall be introduced quickly. A Dallas franchise is ready to affix the PVF in 2025.
“This final month and a half has been the wildest however greatest month and a half of my life,” Sponcil stated. “It’s been loads of choices, massive choices, however thrilling. I wish to be extra to myself so I can have a transparent head the place I need to go subsequent. So thrilling. I’m simply so excited to get again on the indoor courtroom.”
A transfer of some types, be it a associate shift or a transfer to indoor, from the 27-year-old Sponcil was anticipated, as her and seashore associate Terese Cannon withdrew from numerous tournaments within the earlier two months. They skipped the Hamburg Elite16, Manhattan Seaside Open, and Chicago Gold Sequence. Within the second 12 months of their partnership, Sponcil and Cannon have been the most effective groups within the USA, medaling on the Ostrava Elite16 and Itapema Problem and thrice ending third on the AVP. Regardless of the latest hiatus from the seashore, they’re nonetheless ranked No. 12 within the Olympic rankings and had a spot sealed up within the upcoming World Championships.
However the unexpectedly rekindled love for indoor was too intriguing for Sponcil to not pursue.
“It’s not what folks do,” Sponcil stated. “Most individuals will go ‘That is my profession for the subsequent 20 years.’ To take a leap of religion and do what’s in your coronary heart, it’s OK to discover these. After I have a look at society lots of people don’t — that is what I needs to be doing or what society thinks I needs to be doing.”
Certainly, Sponcil’s profession on the seashore is as promising as any within the USA. She was the VolleyballMag Rookie of the Yr in 2018 and the Finest Defensive Participant in 2022. She’s made 17 AVP semifinals and gained in Hermosa Seaside a 12 months in the past. Internationally, she’d made the Olympics, gained 10 medals representing the USA. To commerce that for a considerably unknown profession, in an upstart league, is, as she stated above, “not what folks do.”
“I’m prepared to take a leap of religion and pursue one thing I nonetheless love,” she stated. “Most individuals won’t ever take that danger.”
She isn’t the one seashore participant to affix the PVF. Carly Skjodt, a rising presence on the AVP, signed with Orlando, and several other others are in negotiations with varied different franchises. The advantage of the PVF, versus the worldwide membership route, is a brief season near house that can finish in Might — precisely when the AVP sometimes begins its season.
As she did at UCLA, the place she set indoors and performed on courtroom two on the seashore, Sponcil is planning on enjoying each.
“I need to play PVF however AVP is simply as a lot on my radar to go on the market and play the game that I like. That love hasn’t gone away however this chance I couldn’t say no particularly with my eyes being opened to a different pleasure I’ve, which is indoor,” Sponcil stated. “I can’t say no to a chance like this. I’m simply as excited for each, and to have the ability to do each, I’m grateful for it. To have the ability to do each is a dream.
“I’m simply taking issues one alternative at a time. Clearly Paris [2024 Olympic Games] and the FIVB, I gained’t be enjoying in these tournaments, however as soon as the subsequent quad hits I can’t say that I gained’t return to the seashore. I’m nonetheless thinking about each however that is the place I’m at proper now.”
Becoming a member of the PVF, she stated, is the “better of each worlds,” the place she will play on the AVP largely full-time and maintain her sand legs in form come qualifying time for the Los Angeles 2028 Video games, ought to she select to pursue them. Any followers upset they gained’t see one of the best defensive participant within the nation on the sand any longer can save their disappointment: Sponcil shall be again on the sand, and is “trying ahead to getting a brand new associate” in the summertime of 2024.
Kerri Walsh Jennings, who performed on the 2000 USA Olympic group after which grew to become a three-time seashore gold-medalist with Misti Might and gained bronze in 2016 with April Ross, is now a part of the PVF San Diego franchise.
“Sarah Sponcil is product of greatness and has proved it at each degree of indoor and seashore volleyball,” stated Walsh Jennings, who went from indoors to the seashore. “The truth that she’s now dedicated to enjoying within the PVF reveals not solely her honest love of the sport, but it surely reveals her tenacity of spirit. Sarah desires all of it and I can’t blame her.
“This league is structured in order that the athletes can maximize their alternatives inside the sport and in life. I like that Sarah has acknowledged the highly effective alternative inside the PVF and I like that she’s going for it.”
It was a lifelong dream of Sponcil’s to signify the USA within the Olympic Video games. She did so in Tokyo in 2021 alongside Kelly Cheng, the place they grew to become the youngest group to qualify for an Olympics in USA seashore historical past. They completed ninth, a good, if considerably disappointing end for the 2, who entered Tokyo on a scintillating run, with gold medals within the Sochi and Ostrava 4 Stars.
However, as Sponcil wrote in that piece for VolleyballMag.com, “the proverbial shit hit the fan on the return flight house from Tokyo to Los Angeles. Questions and contradictions have been racing by my head, they usually wouldn’t cease. We received ninth, however I felt unhappy and empty. I used to be so pleased we made it, but it surely wasn’t sufficient. Volleyball was my all the pieces, however I felt suffocated by it. I used to be sitting there asking myself one query after one other:
“Why do I really feel this fashion? Why do I really feel unfulfilled? Why do I really feel so empty?”
Rather less than two years later, she was in Kenya, rediscovering a path that will fill the void.
“Going to Kenya was the most effective journeys of my life,” she stated. “I’ll say it till I die.”