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The Next Big Thing

Gulf Breeze High School forms the first sanctioned high school beach volleyball team in our local area.

Colby Coolbaugh

Want in on a little secret? Beach volleyball is the next big thing. 

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In 2021, the Florida High School Athletic Association sanctioned girls’ beach volleyball as an official high school sport. Locally, Gulf Breeze High School has created the first competitive high school team after the entire community rallied to create new courts and support the endeavor.

Estelle Reese and Allie Hepworth in Siesta Key after winning a bid to the AVP National Championships.

“Prior to this year, if your child wanted to play beach volleyball, you did it all by yourself, by finding a partner, a coach, and traveling to tournaments,” said George Coolbaugh, mother of freshman Colby Coolbaugh. Colby has been competing on her own prior to this upcoming season when she will join the inaugural Gulf Breeze High School Beach Volleyball team.

Heather Reese explains how her freshman daughter, Estelle, started in the sport, “When Covid hit, every gym was closed, organized sports stopped. There was a beach volleyball pro, Brent Beckstrom, who got the girls outdoors and started playing beach volleyball. We credit him for getting us all started.” Estelle started playing at age 12 with her friend and now high school teammate, Syd Sutter.

Unfortunately, after training the girls for about a year, Beckstrom succumbed to a brain tumor. But, with the foundation set by him, the girls continued to play, traveling from California to Ft. Lauderdale.

Estelle Reese and Allie Hepworth were recently champions of an Association of Volleyball Professionals Two Star Event in Siesta Key and won a bid to compete in the 16U division of the 2023 Junior Nationals in Hermosa Beach, California in July. Reese and Hepworth will also be a part of the new beach volleyball team at Gulf Breeze.

“My daughter just fell in love with the sport and wants to compete in any tournament possible,” Heather Reese continued, “Timing-wise there’s no better time to get into beach volleyball because the opportunities are endless.” 

From the 2011-2012, collegiate beach volleyball season until today, the growth has stretched from 15 D1 teams to 64 DI teams in the 2021-22 season and 173 total collegiate teams overall. 

The season opener of the new Gulf Breeze girls’ beach volleyball team is February 28 at 4:30 p.m. against South Walton at the Gulf Breeze Recreational Center. 

The first high school beach volleyball state championship will be Friday and Saturday, May 5-6, 2023 at the Florida State University Beach Volleyball Courts.