Barrington duo beach volleyball champs
Updated: September 29, 2011 7:31PM
If sometime next spring you find yourself at a bar in Island Lake with a sand volleyball court, and you’re thinking about hustling two teenage girls who are practicing there because it’s the only court for miles around, do yourself a favor and walk away.
The girls just may be the national 16U USA Volleyball Beach champions.
Julia Thompson and Emily Casaletto of Barrington won the national beach volleyball title in their age group last July. The championships were held at North Avenue Beach in Chicago and attracted teams from throughout the United States.
“We beat three teams from California,” Thompson said. “They grew up on the beach, so it was exciting to beat them.”
Although they are teammates at Barrington and close friends off the court, Thompson and Casaletto had never played together on the sand prior to last summer. Casaletto, who began playing beach volleyball three years ago, just did not connect with her previous partners.
“I had different partners every year,” Casaletto said. “But Julia and I ended up doing the best.”
Thompson is the novice of the pair. Last summer was her first experience playing competitively on sand.
“I always liked playing beach volleyball just goofing around on the beach on vacation,” Thompson said. “Emily played beach volleyball through our club (Sky High Volleyball Club in Crystal Lake) and wanted me to be her partner, so I joined her.”
Beach volleyball is growing in popularity throughout the club and collegiate ranks. Today, there are fewer than two dozen colleges that offer the sport, but that number is expected grow exponentially over the next two years.
Meanwhile, Thompson and Casaletto are an unlikely pairing. Thompson is a 5-foot-11 junior outside hitter with a dazzling offensive repertoire. Casaletto is a 5-4 libero.
But their chemistry overcomes any disadvantage they may encounter on the beach.
“We’re really good friends off the court, so we each have a lot of chemistry,” Thompson said. “We communicate really well.”
“We work really well together,” Casaletto said. “We’re both good all-around players, and I finally get to hit. I am 5-foot-4, on a good day, but the beach kind of evens it out. Julia can block for us, and then I mostly play defense and hit shots. She has the swing.”
One week after winning the USA title last summer, the pair finished third at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in New Orleans. They were defeated by a team from California, but rebounded to beat a team from Florida for third place.
The pair’s success on the beach has had a residual effect for Thompson. She has an offer from Florida State to join their beach volleyball team. She will visit the Tallahassee campus this weekend.
Meanwhile, the pair will prepare to defend their USA title once the high school season ends, whether or not they can find an indoor beach volleyball facility somewhere near their homes in the far northwest suburbs.
“I haven’t found one yet,” Thompson said. “But I’ll keep looking.”