Updated: Apr 6, 2020
After spending much of their juniors careers training with RPM Sand at Horizon Park or Tempe Town Lake together and competing together all over the country, Claire Coppola and Hailey Harward decided to try their hand at qualifying for the AVP Main Draw. On July 20th, 2017 at the AVP Hermosa Beach Open they took their shot. The Hermosa Beach Open is a huge event because not only is there a professional qualifier being held there, but the AVP First National Championships are held right along side it. Professional teams from all over along with the best juniors teams in the country are there playing basically side by side. RPM Sand had quite a few teams out competing for the National Championship. This meant that when Claire and Hailey took the court, the eyes of their entire club were glued to their matches.
After my nephew passed away, these two and their families were incredibly supportive. They checked in on me, they gave me big hugs when they saw me. They earned a huge place in my heart because of it. It was just them being who they are, but their support in a time where I just needed love was invaluable and endeared me to all of them for life.
Claire Coppola had gone from RPM to LSU. She had played on their 1's team for basically her entire career there. She and her partner Kristen Nuss were one of the top teams in the country and in only their Sophomore year, had already defeated many more experienced teams. Claire would go on to win multiple all-american awards, and at the end of the #coronavirusseason she and her partner had racked up 100 collegiate wins to set the LSU record and become only the third collegiate pair to do so in NCAA history.
Hailey Harward left RPM and went on to compete at Long Beach State where she competed both indoor and on the beach. Hailey won multiple Big West awards including being selected to the All Big West Freshmen team and then her sophomore year being selected to the All Big West First Team. As a true team player, Hailey played libero when they needed her as well as outside hitter. She had seasons where she led the team in digs and seasons where she led the team in kills. As the true competitor that Hailey is, she broke Misty May-Treanor's dig record at her school in her final season there. In 2019, Hailey transferred to USC to compete on the beach. at the end of the #coronavirusseason she was playing in the 1's spot for USC.
These two were always so fun to watch! They had stayed in touch during college and come together twice to win the BVCA National Championship in the College Division. Here they were now, reunited again on the sand in Hermosa Beach where they had so much success together in their careers. The first round of pool play they played Mariko Coverdale and Chelsea Hayes. After winning 21-17, 21-18 they were into the second round. Up next was the team of Hilary Dattilo and Zuzana Spencer. Hailey and Claire came out strong and dispatched of this team in 42 minutes 21-16, 21-18.
The next game was "the game to get in". As I walked over to the court to watch, I noticed a crowd. Claire and Hailey had fans! It was so awesome to see!!! Hailey had a huge smile and waive for people and Claire did too. They were focused but you could tell they were also a bit nervous. This game was against Branagan Fuller and Delaney Knudsen. It was an absolute battle! Claire and Hailey took the first set 21-18 and you could tell they could taste the victory. They were hungry for this! it was so awesome to watch! They were making RPM history and cementing themselves as RPM legends.
The second set started and was back and forth. A couple of errors had Hailey and Claire down by a couple of points. After a timeout they closed the gap, but Fuller and Knudsen closed out the game 21-17. In the box between games, I can only imagine what the conversation was about. Without the momentum in their favor, they would have to dig deep to pull out the match and get to move to the main draw.
Game three began and they were on fire! Claire with some huge blocks to change the strategy of the other team and the energy for her team. Hailey running down balls, fully laying out for digs, and then popping up to her feet and, with an explosive approach, detonating balls. Their opponents kept stride with some incredible plays of their own. Game 3, where it becomes all heart and passion. Game 3 of the game to get into the main draw for the first time and these two were determined. I stood there on the sideline and all I could think to myself was, wow, I am so excited for these two girls. All of those moments playing ball for so long. The match they played against Ryan and I at Tempe Town Lake earlier that year. All the training. All the disappointment of not making it to the finals in juniors their senior year. All of those things that prepared them for this moment to be able to push through.
As the last ball hit the sand and they won 16-14, they both jumped in the air. As they came to the middle of the court to hug each other, I just smiled. They had done it! They had come together again and produced greatness like they had done so many times before. This team, these girls. I was so proud of them and happy for them! It was an incredible moment and one that I am so glad I got to witness!!!!
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