For Elli Merchant, life’s a beach, especially when it comes to volleyball.
Merchant, a senior on the Euless Trinity Lady Trojans volleyball team, first started playing the sport in the fourth grade. Four years later she was introduced to beach volleyball, and little did she know it would be her ticket to college.
“I started out in a recreational youth league with my Trinity teammates Margaret Dean and Amanda McDowell,” she said. “I didn’t start playing beach until the spring of my eighth grade year. At first I wasn’t that serious about it because it was new and different, and I didn’t know anyone else my age at the club I joined when I first started.”
Now, she’s among the best around at both the indoor game and the beach version. Her next stop after graduating from Trinity is Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, where she received a scholarship to play beach volleyball.
“For me, the biggest difference between indoor and beach is the amount of responsibility,” Merchant said. “In indoor, I can go a whole rally without touching the ball because there are five other players on the court with me, but in beach, since there are only two players, I touch the ball and have an impact in every play.”
However, she said participating in both sports helps when she goes from one to the other. In fact, she said each sport has made her a better player when the seasons switch.
“After playing beach all summer and going straight into school volleyball, I noticed that my serve-receive had improved so much from last year’s school season because of all the touches I get playing beach,” she said.
Merchant doesn’t get much time to play beach volleyball this time of year. However, she said she did recently return to some beach competition, and in doing so could tell a difference a few aspects of her game.
For example, she noted a significant improvement in her defense. She credited this as a result of her indoor play.
“Defense was one area I struggled with over the summer because I block the whole time in beach, so I am excited to see that the defensive aspect of my game is improving,” she said.
Among her success in beach volleyball, Merchant and her partner, Kylie Keeling, placed second in a tournament that earned them a bid for the USA Volleyball Junior Beach National Championship in Milwaukee. She has reached nationals each year since she started the beach game.
Now, she plays in the 18s division, the most challenging of all as it features players who are highly recruited from all across the nation. She noted that the national tournament included players from such big-name programs as the University of California, Stanford, Arizona and Florida State, just to name a few.
“I am really proud of how well we played that weekend because we were able to remain steady throughout the whole tournament and make it to the semifinals before falling to a really great team who we had played against earlier in the summer in California,” she said.
Though they lost in the semifinals, she and Keeling bounced back to capture the bronze medal by defeating Beach 10K, another team from her Plano club program.
She has also seen much of the nation through beach volleyball, including California, Nevada, Alabama, Florida, Virginia and all over Texas. It led her to Mercer and an awaiting scholarship, which she ironically discovered while at a camp in Austin.
“I immediately fell in love with the Mercer campus, and coach (Damian) Elder is so awesome,” she said.
Merchant said she visited numerous other schools, including LSU, Florida Atlantic and Georgia State. However, she said there was something about Mercer that felt like home.
And while playing beach at Mercer will fulfill a dream for her, she has also enjoyed her success in the indoor game. But she said playing beach in college is something she’s wanted to do since she began the sport.
Lady Trojans coach Mia Langi called Merchant a selfless young lady on the court and in the classroom. She believes that quality will make her as valuable a player and student at Mercer as it has at Trinity.
“She is the type of player that everyone wants to play with. She has been vital part of our success and a constant reminder that hard work pays off,” Langi said. “She is a great leader who wants everyone to know their worth, and she pushes the girls to give their very best.
“Ellie will be missed when she leaves for Mercer. Her parents did a great job raising Ellie and I am thankful to have the opportunity to coach her. I know she will be extraordinary at Mercer.”
Not only is she a multi-talented athlete in volleyball, Merchant also plays for the Trinity golf team when volleyball is not in season. She is a member of the the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, and is on the leadership team for the THS Interact Club.
She has received academic all-district honors each year playing for Trinity, being on the varsity since her sophomore year. She was second-team All-District 7-6A as a sophomore and first team as a junior, along with being named the team MVP.
She plans to major in global health studies and minor in law and public policy at Mercer.
“With this major I’ll be able to help people locally, nationally or globally, depending on where I decide to put my career focus,” Merchant said.
Beach volleyball is the newest NCAA Division I sport. Last season the first national championship tournament was held. Merchant hopes to help the sport grow beyond the 10 teams that were invited.
“My main goal for my college career at Mercer is for the sport to grow enough that I can help Mercer make it to the NCAA Sand Volleyball National Championships,” she said.