Berean Christian’s Beach Volleyball Team Makes Big Strides

Berean’s Beach Volleyball Team: (L-R) Chloe Kasper-Anderson, Matea Johnson, Malia Johnson, Emily Buerkle, Paige Hazera, Michelle Metzler (athletic director), Soraya Leon, Isabel Soles and Jen Buerkle (head coach) at the SSAC championships.

This year’s girls beach volleyball team from Berean Christian School created many positive memories that will endure for years to come.

According to Jen Buerkle, Berean’s head coach for both beach and indoor volleyball teams, the key players this past spring were Isabel Soles, Paige Hazera, Emily Buerkle and Matea Johnson. Soles and Hazera played line one, while Buerkle (the coach’s daughter) and Johnson played line two. Soles, Hazera and Johnson were the three seniors on the squad.

“Isabel and Paige definitely provided the senior leadership that we needed,” Buerkle said. “Emily and Matea provided extra playing experience and guidance for our newer players. These four were the heart of our team.”

The benefits of being a part of this squad will extend beyond the actual playing season, which concluded with a 4-9 record.

“The camaraderie and fellowship that develops between the beach girls is very special,” Buerkle said. “We spend a lot of time together because some of our away games are an hour away. They spend their time playing Uno on the bus and enjoying our post-game dinners. Shirley Temples are a tradition with us. My favorite thing about beach volleyball is when all the lines but one is finished, and all the girls gather around the court to support their teammates and cheer them on to victory.”

In addition to playing matches under the umbrella of the Florida High School Athletic Association, Berean plays a separate schedule of matches under the auspices of the Sunshine State Athletic Conference (SSAC), which is a group of 120-plus smaller, largely Christian schools throughout the state.

The highlight of Berean’s beach volleyball season was its participation in the SSAC championship tournament in late April in Tavares, where there’s a first-class facility at Hickory Point Park.

“It is a gorgeous facility with 21 beach courts that is owned by the Florida region of USA Volleyball,” Buerkle said.

In its three SSAC championship games, Berean defeated Hampden Dubose 3-0 and Foundation Christian 2-1, but lost to Bell Creek 2-1. Over the two-day event, both lines one and two had strong performances for the Bulldogs.

“In the match against Bell Creek, both lines two and three went to three sets in that match,” Buerkle recalled. “We just couldn’t close it out.”

Having that SSAC affiliation is a big plus for a small athletic program like Berean.

“I am so thankful for the SSAC and what they provide for small high school athletics,” Buerkle explained. “We were able to qualify for the SSAC state championships last year, and although we didn’t win a match, it was a memorable experience for all of us. When we found out that we would go to the SSAC championships again this year, the girls from last year’s team were ecstatic. The SSAC championships push you with the amount of games you have to play, along with the sun and heat.”

By having a beach volleyball team in the spring, Buerkle feels as if her squad has a head start on the indoor volleyball season in the fall.

“Most of the girls will be playing indoor in the fall,” Buerkle said. “We are looking forward to the indoor season. I love to see how the beach season has improved our girls’ indoor skills. Playing beach is an easy way to increase your volleyball skills. In beach, you are passing or hitting every other ball and serving every other time. You get so many reps in playing beach. It is also a lot easier for the girls to jump higher and be faster when they get back on the hardwood.”