Beach volleyball promises fun in the sun for DMS duo


Playing in the sun and sand has a totally different meaning for Allie Avena and Kennedy Vaughn than for most 12-year-old girls. The two seventh-grade student-athletes at Discovery Middle School are die-hard beach volleyball players and have teamed up to be one of the nation’s top two-player teams. They recently played in the USA Volleyball Youth Beach National Championships in Manhattan Beach, Calif., near Los Angeles.

The two young athletes, who play for the Discovery Panthers volleyball team, partnered to form their own two-person squad and were part of the United 121 Club. They won the BNQ Rally Regional Championships held in Atlanta last April and a second Rally in Atlanta later in the summer. The squad began by winning in the Huntsville Beach Tournament before heading to the Big Peach.

At the USA Volleyball Youth Beach National Championships, the team finished 17th out of 68 teams from across the country.

Both girls are in their second season of the sport noted for its play in sand, and both began the sport as a way to play volleyball year-round. Once they tried their volleyball skills in the sand, they were hooked. “I saw games on television and thought I’d like to try, so my mother signed me up after we visited the sand courts in Huntsville,” said the 5-foot-8-inch Vaughn.

For the 5-foot-6inch Avena, volleyball has been a passion since she began the indoor sport more than five years ago. In 2018 she thought about the sand version of the sport and decided it give it a try. “I really thought it was a little challenging and saw the obstacles the sport presents, but I love challenges,” said Avena. “I face challenges. I battle them.”

The two friends hang out together away from the volleyball courts, too – going to movies, attending local hockey matches and having sleepovers. Each maintains her teammate is also her best friend. With smiles galore whenever they are together, it’s easy to see how the girls play well together as partners on the sand courts.

“We have good communication, and we correct mistakes very quickly, which makes us much better than our competition,” Avena said. “We play against very elite opponents; I’m personally nervous but confident we can handle any adversities that are presented to us.”

Vaughn said she and her partner use a numbering system during their play, since many times they have their backs to one another during a match. “I know where (Avena) is at all times on the court. We keep each other motivated.”

In some ways Vaughn, whose second cousin is the nine-time gold medal Olympian athlete Carl Lewis, is lucky to be playing any sport. She and her twin brother Chandler were born with an eye disorder, which required two eye surgeries and wearing eye patches during recovery. She also had an ear surgery and hernia surgery all within four years of her birth. Her athletic endeavors started with soccer, but that didn’t click with the energetic and confident Vaughn. She next tried volleyball, in the second grade, and fell in love with the sport. “I love the hitting and serving of the ball. The game is very physical,” added Vaughn.

Both girls as sixth-graders were managers for the Discovery School team. Now they play for the Panthers using the skills they have honed in the sand version of the sport. As beach players, each was invited to attend the Girls Future Select Camps by USA Volleyball – known as pipelines to the Junior Olympics and possibly more.

 “You get such an amazing feeling from winning,” said Avena. “To accomplish something where your hard work paid off is what’s it all about.”

Exactly how good is this team from Madison? One gauge to determine the answer to that question is the fact while in the qualification rounds in Atlanta, the girls moved up to the 14-year-old division. The girls played in 90-degree weather conditions and won the division with a fantastic come-from-behind victory over the No. 1 seed from Cartersville, Ga.

Each girl has the dream to win, play in the Olympics and play the sport they love together as best friends.