Sara Hughes follows her heart to the sand

Kirstin Olsen

Sara Hughes, a junior setter at Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), has decided to follow her heart and play sand volleyball at USC.

The decision wasn’t easy.

Hughes is a star both indoors and outdoors, and had offers from multiple schools. Hughes sets and hits for Mater Dei, and she does it all on the beach, winning tournaments since she was 12. She also won an indoor gold medal at the Junior Olympics with her club team, Long Beach Mizuno Rockstar.

We caught up with Hughes about her recent decision and future in volleyball.

ESPNHS: What made you choose sand at USC?

Sara Hughes: The opportunity to compete in collegiate sand volleyball has always been a dream of mine. During the recruiting process I always told the coaches that I wanted to play sand, or indoor and sand. I chose USC because ever since I went on my unofficial, everything flowed perfectly and I knew it was the place for me. Both the school and Anna (Collier), the sand coach, matched up to my goals entirely.

ESPNHS: Was it hard to choose between sand and indoor?

Hughes: Choosing between sand and indoor was one of the hardest things I have had to do. I would think about it consistently, but at the end of the each day I knew sand was my real passion. I still have the option of playing indoors after two years.

ESPNHS: What advice did your parents and coaches give you?

Hughes: My parents knew it was going to be a very tough decision for me, so we talked about it every day and they helped me come to my decision. Ultimately they told me it was my decision to make, but they helped me through it. My coaches always gave me positive feedback about playing sand in college, but they also wanted to see me play indoor. In the end, when I chose sand, they were all very happy for me.

ESPNHS: Are you going to continue to play indoor?

Hughes: Yes, for both my club and high school team. I love playing indoor and I will miss it, but for now I am going to enjoy playing it will my teammates at Long Beach Mizuno Rockstar 17.

ESPNHS: How was the recruiting process for you?

Hughes: The recruiting process was both exciting and stressful. It started in eighth grade with my first unofficial visit. Many colleges from around the country were recruiting me for indoor. I was humbled by the amount of interest from top programs. Ultimately I talked with both my parents and coaches to see which school was both academically and athletically suited for my goals. Staying on the West Coast was also a priority.

ESPNHS: What other schools were you considering?

Hughes: Some other schools that were considering me were Stanford, Pepperdine, UCLA, Hawaii, Arizona, Long Beach State, Cal, Texas, Florida, UNC, Washington, San Diego, LMU and UCI, among others. I would like to thank everyone for their interest in me.

ESPNHS: What was the big deciding factor?

Hughes: The big deciding factor for every school was they had to have sand volleyball.

ESPNHS: How do you plan to train for beach?

Hughes: I train for the beach every Sunday with USA coaches Jon Aharoni and Jose Loiola getting prepared with the other national-team members for the world championships in the summer. Also in the summer I compete in many tournaments, both amateur and professional. I also go to Huntington with friends or for pick-up games on the men’s courts.

ESPNHS: How do you feel about playing for Anna Collier?

Hughes: I am beyond excited to play for Anna Collier, she is such an amazing coach and I can’t wait to learn so much from her and become a better player. She and I have already set some short- and long-term goals during our discussions.

ESPNHS: Who is going to be your partner in college?

Hughes: I am not quite sure, that is for Anna to decide for me.

ESPNHS: What kind of partner are you hoping for?

Hughes: I am hoping for a partner who is just as committed to beach as I am. I want to win a national championship at USC and I want my partner and all of my teammates to think the same way.

ESPNHS: How does it feel to be one of the first women to have the opportunity to play a new college sport?

Hughes: It is such a great honor. USC has presented me with the opportunity to focus on my passion and become the best student-athlete I can be.

ESPNHS: What advice do you have for other volleyers out there trying to decide between sand and indoor?

Hughes: Follow your heart on your decision because ultimately you know deep inside what you really want. Do not be afraid to put in the extra time for sand volleyball. The cross-training has helped me in both sports

ESPNHS: What are your goals for volleyball?

Hughes: To win many national championships at USC and to have a future career as a beach volleyball player in the FIVB world tours, and then, of course, the main goal is to make it to the Olympics to represent USA.