Julia Scoles, the gritty Rookie of the Year, still has ‘so much growth to do’


HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — Tina Graudina has a theory, one she vocalized at dinner on the eve before the AVP Fort Lauderdale finals in July.

“There’s something about the mindset, you throw up, and you go out there, don’t mess with the person who threw up,” Graudina told Julia Scoles and Hailey Harward, her good friends and former teammates at USC. Why they were discussing puking and rallying at dinner, on the night before the biggest day of their AVP careers, there is no really telling. But it turned out to be an awfully prescient — if not inaccurate — conversation.

About 15 hours later, there was Scoles, sitting next to her partner, Geena Urango, at the technical timeout of the finals, down 9-12, against none other than Graudina and Harward. And, of course, she was throwing up.

While much of the rest of the viewers were no doubt wondering how Scoles was going to go out and play not just the rest of the second set, but also the inevitable third to follow, and Dain Blanton and Camryn Irwin discussed the same, Scoles had a vastly different mindset about the matter.

“So I’m there, I’m throwing up in the timeout, and I’m like ‘Oh, yeah, I’m ready!’ ” she said on SANDCAST, barely getting the words out through a fit of laughter. She was not, in fact, as ready as she anticipated, and the superpowers that Graudina alleged come with throwing up never appeared. But one thing was made abundantly clear on that afternoon in Fort Lauderdale: Julia Scoles is one of the toughest players on the AVP. She would go on to finish the match, heat exhaustion and all, and although her and Urango would fall, 21-19, 15-21, 6-15, she did so in a flurry of jump serves, bombed swings, and all-out effort.

“We learned a lot about [Julia] that day,” said Tri Bourne, who was watching while warming up for his own final.

The rest of us may have, but the scene was nothing new to Blanton, Scoles’ coach at USC.

“She’s a warrior, that girl,” he said. He should know. He’d seen a similar scene play out just two months prior, on the eve of the NCAA Championships. The trainer had phoned him in the morning, said that Scoles had been up sick all night.

“I’m like ‘Ah, man, this is a bummer, how’s it going to affect the team?’ ” Blanton recalled thinking that morning. “But then the second thought is, if you want it to happen to anybody, Julia’s the one who can handle it. She came out, did her thing, and won the Championship, her and Delaynie Maple clinched it.”

Julia being Julia.

That toughness, that grit, is as much genetic as it is learned, a trait Scoles attributes to gymnastics when she was a child.

“That was the most intense regimen I’ve ever had in terms of athletic training,” she said.  “I was homeschooled, it was four hours a day, every other day. It was two hours in the morning and looking back, that was for sure child abuse, parts of it. It was very intense. I think that set the foundation for my muscular development because I think when you’re young you develop muscles way faster than when you’re older and it also set the bar for what it means to work hard. Every other sport after that, it was like ‘This is nothing compared to gymnastics.’”

So while it was certainly exceptional to most fans that Scoles would suffer from heat exhaustion, dehydration, and nearly go into shock one Sunday, and then turn around and win her first AVP just seven days later, it really wasn’t all that different from the limits to which Scoles has pushed herself her entire life. Ask any of her coaches, be it indoors at North Carolina or on the beach at Hawai’i and USC, and you’ll get the same response: Scoles is one of the hardest working, toughest players they’ve ever had. It helps to explain how she could use the four days between Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta mostly resting, chugging electrolytes and getting IVs, and then go out and play the best volleyball of her quickly rising career.

Even then, even after a season in which she made five AVP semifinals, won her first tournament, and qualified for the season-ending Phoenix Championships, Scoles admitted that “I feel like I don’t live up to my expectations a lot with how much I could be doing and how hard I could be working but then you have to understand efficiency and balance and rest is a part of growing and getting better.”

She’s a quick learner, Scoles, able to evolve from a 24-year-old with just one AVP main draw to her name — and no main draw wins — into the VolleyballMag Rookie of the Year and the No. 12-ranked player on the AVP Tour. By nature of being a rookie, and being just 25 years old and relatively new to the beach game, Scoles’ journey is only just beginning.

“Getting to the finals and winning an AVP has been so humbling because it’s made me realize that anyone can win on any given day and the people at the top are so good at volleyball and I could have caught them on their off day and vice versa, so it is really dependent on the day of who’s going to show up and who’s going to play high level volleyball,” Scoles said. “Am I capable of it? Yes. But is everyone else also capable? Yes. It lights a fire to want to continue to push forward and to chase excellence and to master your game so hopefully you can win more consistently and separate yourself from the pack.

“I do enjoy a balanced life and I definitely identify as a volleyball player and that’s not where my identity is rooted. Faith to me is super important so just having trust in God in all of the highs and lows because, yes, there were wins but there were also terrible losses where I questioned ‘What am I doing? Am I even good at this sport?’

“I think just having that constant has allowed me to not ride the highs too high and the lows too low and to have a steady outlook. I guess what I’ve learned about myself is that this is a possibility, that I could go far in this sport and it’s up to me putting in the work and having a future projection of, yes, it may not look like wins all the time and I may have down tournaments but in five years, where will my game be then vs. now?

“I honestly feel so young and new to the game still in so many ways. I want to refine and grow my game and learn about the sport and master my skillset within the sport and that’s what I’m super excited about, and just knowing that where I’m at now I can be a lot better because I know I have so much growth to do still.”

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