As a senior standout for The Citadel indoor volleyball team, Rachael Farrell had her postgraduate plans all figured out. She wanted to stay at her alma mater to begin her master’s degree while serving as a graduate assistant coach for the Bulldogs volleyball program.
But the best-laid plans often go astray, and when Farrell’s opportunity fell through during her final semester, she started contacting coaches from all over the country looking for an open GA spot.
One of those coaches to receive an email from Farrell was then-Stetson head coach Tim Loesch.
“Coach Tim got back to me and said, ‘We don’t have a GA position, but how would you feel about playing sand for a year to use up your eligibility?’” Farrell said. “I said, ‘Do you want to let me come play sand for a year? I would love to.’”
There was just one small problem.
Farrell had never had any formal sand training. However, she got to work right away and came down to Siesta Key, Fla., in June to play in a beach tournament with current Hatter Taylor Kennedy. That is when assistant coach Meghan Bryant got her first look at Farrell playing sand.
“We actually had played The Citadel in indoor, so we remembered her,” Bryant said. “We had seen her in action. Actually, she lit us up that game, so we knew what kind of athlete she was. It was just a matter of seeing her play sand.”
It didn’t take long for Bryant to see Farrell’s potential. While many players have difficulty making the transition from indoor to sand, Farrell seemed to be handling it quite well.
“She is an incredible athlete, she is very strong, and she obviously had very good training at The Citadel,” Bryant said. “It was interesting, because she was still learning the (sand) game, and you could tell how much she didn’t understand some of the basics.”
Learning curve aside, Bryant was still impressed with Farrell’s ability to stay calm under pressure.
“The thing that I really liked the most about watching her play was her ability to keep her composure,” Bryant added. “A lot of players get easily frustrated in sand when it is just two girls out there. Although she was making little errors here and there, she never let it affect her play. I thought that was awesome.”
Soon after that tournament, Stetson made a formal scholarship offer to Farrell, which she eagerly accepted.
There was just one more small problem.
“At that point, I had not been accepted (to Stetson) yet. I had not even come to visit,” Farrell said. “In a span of about three weeks, I applied to Stetson, got accepted, found an apartment, moved down here, and started taking classes.”
Logistically, things were falling into place for Farrell. But how would she handle fitting in with her new team and experiencing her first extended training in sand volleyball?
“I did not realize how different playing sand was,” Farrell said. “I felt like the fall was a huge learning curve for me. I was really thankful that sand was a spring sport, because where I am now is nowhere near where I was in the fall. The girls have taken me in and helped me learn how different everything is. It has been a blast, and I love it. I really wish I had another year that I could play.”
Farrell is making the most of her one season of eligibility, going 8-7 with teammate Julie Bassett at the No. 2 and No. 3 positions. Farrell credits Bassett with teaching her a lot of the nuances of the game itself. The pair have helped lead the third-year Stetson sand program to its most successful season to date, with a 14-3 record entering this week's Atlantic Sun Championship.
“I feel really honored, really grateful for this opportunity,” Farrell said. “I have grown up always being on a sports team, so going to school and not being on a sports team just seemed like such a crazy concept to me. I was so thankful to even just be around the girls, so to be able to contribute on the sand with the team is a very humbling and amazing experience.”
Farrell and the Hatters will look to capture the A-Sun Championship this Friday and Saturday in Fort Myers, Fla. Although Farrell was not part of last year’s team that came within a few points of the title, she is already immersed in the determination this year’s squad has to accomplish its goal.
“I know it would mean the world to me, and the whole team,” Farrell said about winning the A-Sun title. “The returners have been working since the end of conference last year. This team is the most driven team I have ever been on. From day one, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, I think we can win the conference,’ it was, ‘We are going to win the conference.’ Every day, we are coming out and putting in everything we can, working on every aspect trying to get better. We know when it counts we are going to finish it.”
The Hatters will be the No. 2 seed for the double-elimination tournament and will face No. 3 seed Jacksonville at 11 a.m. on Friday. UNF is the No. 1 seed.