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Phoenix native heading to Tokyo Olympics after qualifying in beach volleyball

Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes
Posted at 4:05 PM, Jun 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-16 21:48:46-04

PHOENIX — A Phoenix native is heading to the Olympics in Tokyo after qualifying in beach volleyball. Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes will be one of two women's teams representing the United States.

Sarah was born and raised in Phoenix. It's thanks to her parents-- Lisa and Wayne Sponcil-- that she and her older sister Rebecca started playing volleyball.

"I started playing volleyball when I was basically three or four," said Sarah.

"Started playing volleyball and never looked back," said Wayne Sponcil, her father.

Sarah played indoor volleyball at Great Hearts Veritas Preparatory Academy where she earned three state titles. Wayne coached the girls through high school. Her parents said Sarah was determined.

"She's just cut from a different cloth I think, said Wayne Sponcil.

"Me and my dad every day without fail would go in the back of the school and we'd practice together," said Sarah.

"Wayne would practice on the basketball courts with setting, he'd hit at her, get her better at passing. They were always just--Sarah just always had to had a ball," said Lisa Sponcil.

"She had to excel," said her father.

She competed at Loyola Marymount University for three years before transferring to UCLA in 2018. That's when she switched to beach volleyball and helped the Bruins win two beach national titles.

"I said if it does nothing but keep them out of trouble, it'll pay for itself. At the end of it, we were like 'wow maybe they'll be able to pay in college' and then it just progressed from there," said Wayne.

Sarah went pro, competing with her teammate Kelly Claes.

"It's a whole different world going from college beach volleyball to playing with the best that's ever played," said Sarah.

The two won gold in their last two tournaments, qualifying for the Olympics.

"I think it's such a fairy tale ending, and I think we grinded and we had a tough road. It was 2.5 years in that third-place spot and to just surpass everyone in the last second, it's just it's awesome," she said.

It's something she used to dream about. She credits her parents and sister for helping her get there.

"It gives me chills just to see how far I've come.... family means everything to me. My dad, being with me and coaching me and my mom going to all my games. It takes a village and it's just so amazing to see it all pan out," said Sarah.

Her parents said they couldn't be prouder.

Sarah will head to Tokyo on July 16.