The long and illustrious careers of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings at the Olympic level lasted nearly as long (12 years) as 13 year olds Darian Clark and Gabby Leo have been alive.
So let’s not get ahead of ourselves by any means, but the latter duo has it goals set high when it comes to two-person sand volleyball.
“They are our idols and we want to be able to do some of the things they did,” Clark said. “They played with each other for so long and always won. We think we can do it to.”
The Ahwatukee eighth-graders, both of whom attend Kyrene Centennial Middle School, are off to a solid start after winning the Desert Open on April 28 in Glendale.
The 14-and-under age group had the largest field with 20 duos, but it didn’t slow Clark and Leo as they won the division with a 21-11, 19-21, 15-12 victory over Anna Morse of Tempe and Jayelin Lombard of Laveen in the finals.
The USA Volleyball Junior Beach Tour tournament victory earned the duo a bid for the Invitational Division at the National Championships on July 27-28 in Milwaukee, Wis.
“It’s going to be better competition and beach sand is a lot harder with only two players,” Leo said. “We are not sure what to expect, but Darian always says, ‘Let’s go win.’
“So that’s what we are going to try and do.”
The tandem, who also played together on the East Valley Jr.’s 14U indoor team, started playing with each other in the fourth grade at the YMCA before finding their way to the East Valley Juniors club team, where Leo’s mom, Jen, is a setter coach.
Since then the two have been “joined at the hip” and consider each other best friends. Once they are done playing in the national event Leo will join the Clark family, who has relatives in Wisconsin, for a few extra days for vacation.
Before the vacation portion of the trip starts, however, there is some work to do. The tournament starts with pool play before moving on to the next round based on their record on the first day of action.
Clark is a 5-foot-7 outside hitter, while Leo is the setter as one would expect with her lineage of the Leo family. Her sister, Jessica, was the setter most of the season for the Mountain Pointe varsity during her freshman year in 2012.
Together they make a formidable team simply because, much-like May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings, they’ve played with each other for so long that they are almost always in sync and communicate well after years of watching each other.
“I know where she wants the ball and when she is going to get there,” Leo said. “We just have a feel for what the other one is going to do.”
Clark, who said she is deciding between Mountain Pointe and Hamilton for high school, said it is the main reason they have been able to attain success so early.
“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” said Clark, who has tried out for the USA High Performance Beach Volleyball program. “It lets us play better and makes changes (when things are not going well) if we have to.”
The level of cohesiveness is why they are so confident heading into the national championships.
“We played well (in Glendale) and worked hard to get better,” Clark said. “The (win) gave us more and more confidence. We know we have to better (at nationals) and we are ready to do it.”
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