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Peyton’s place is in the sand: Yamagata to play beach volleyball for TCU

Stone Bridge sophomore Peyton Yamagata bumps the ball during a beach volleyball match. Not even halfway through high school, Yamagata has already committed to play beach volleyball for Texas Christian University.—Courtesy Photo
A vacation in Cancun has helped change many a young person’s life. For Peyton Yamagata, her young life was changed on a Cancun beach by a game of pick-up volleyball.

“These other people staying at the resort came up to us and asked if I wanted to come over and play beach volleyball with them,” recounted Yamagata of that sunny excursion four years ago. “I said, ‘Sure. Why not?’”

That was how for the first time Yamagata played, or much thought about, the sport of volleyball. She’s hardly been able to stop thinking about it since.

“Thirty minutes later, I came back and I was in love with it. Just being able to pass it, set it, spike it on someone,” she recalled.

Yamagata’s natural quickness - honed by years of agility and coordination as a second-degree black-belt taekwondo artist - was an asset when covering a sand-filled court. She found she could scamper through the sand faster than most, keeping points alive. She discovered she could play with, and play better than, full-grown adults.

Back home in Ashburn, Yamagata had a sports quandary. Her passion for taekwondo - her sole athletic outlet to date - had faded, and the middle schooler wanted to sample something new.

“I was doing pretty well with taekwondo, winning these competitions in Ashburn,” she said. “If I wanted to keep going, I was going to start competing at these states and maybe national tournaments. But I was kind of bored with it.”

Her ennui with taekwondo was matched by her élan for volleyball, particularly the variety played on sand. Yamagata was introduced to Dulles Volleyball and began training to be a serious beach volleyball player.

She accepted invitations to 10 collegiate showcase events and has helped win nearly two dozen tournaments, both indoors on hardcourt and outdoors in sand. She’s become a regular on the elite youth beach volleyball circuit, playing in such hotbeds as Santa Monica, Calif.

Four years later, not yet halfway through high school, this uncommon sport she accidentally found has already helped her get into college. On Sept. 17, Yamagata committed to play beach volleyball for Texas Christian University after considering opportunities with Tulane University, the University of Southern California and the University of Central Florida.

She still has some work to do before college, though.

Beaches of Fort Worth

Yamagata’s volleyball career began on an ordinary hardcourt at Farmwell Station Middle School. She tried out for and made the Falcons’ team, despite her rawness.

“I could get to every ball. I may not have been able to bump it up in the air, but I could always get there,” she said.

After learning the most basic fundamentals, such as how to hold the ball for a serve and how to rotate through the positions, Yamagata joined Dulles Volleyball’s program. While there, she alternated volleyball seasons between hardcourt and sand.

“I just did whatever I could to learn the sport and grow with it,” she said. “But I always loved playing on sand. I loved that you could just throw yourself around and not hurt yourself.”

Indoor volleyball plays six against six. Beach volleyball pits two versus two, creating “a totally different sport,” according to Yamagata.

“You really have to rely on your partner when playing beach. You need to depend on each other,” she explained. “That caught my attention way more than indoor.”

Yamagata stressed that beach volleyball demands more than superior conditioning to get quickly around the court. It requires proficiency in all aspects of the game.

“You need to be able to dig the ball, you have to set, you have to hit, you have to block, you need to be able to do everything,” she said. “There’s no bench in beach.”

That fact was clearly evident when Yamagata pulled off what has become her favorite moment so far in beach competition. At a college showcase tournament in Santa Monica, Yamagata and her partner survived one difficult match and were rewarded with another.

“It was hot that day and they gave us like 30 seconds between games,” she said.

Her team won the match’s first set but found itself down 16 points in the second.

“I told my partner, ‘We can do this,’” she recalled. They did, as Yamagata ran off eight service aces during the comeback, punctuated by a diving out-of-bounds save of an errant pass leading to the winning point.

“That was like the greatest point,” she said. “That was telling you that anything is possible.”

Efforts and abilities such as that earned Yamagata the recognition she wanted from college coaches. TCU coach Hector Gutiérrez, to whose program Yamagata has committed, discovered her while he was scouting another prospect.

“He told me he was watching this recruiting video of this other girl, and he said, ‘This other girl’s better than this girl,’” said Yamagata, enjoying the story. “That’s how he found me. It’s crazy.”

Yamagata plans to study kinesiology and sports biomechanics, with interest in training and rehabilitating fellow athletes. The high school sophomore hopes there’s plenty of volleyball in her future, though.

“The strongest part of my game is that I’m really fast, so that helps me on defense. I’ve also gotten a lot of compliments on my setting,” she assessed. “I think my weakest point is getting my vertical up so I can hit it harder.”

As for her long-term goals, the Ashburn girl was direct.

“My dream is to play in the Olympics for beach volleyball,” Yamagata declared.

Peyton Yamagata has made tremendous strides in beach volleyball since discovering the sport four years ago. She also plays indoor volleyball for Stone Bridge High School.--Courtesy Photo


Peyton Yamagata

-Age 15, Ashburn

-Stone Bridge sophomore

-Past childhood sport: Taekwondo

-Present high school sport: Volleyball

-Present club sport: Beach volleyball

-Future college sport: Beach volleyball

-Future college: TCU

-Goal: Become beach volleyball Olympian



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