SDA volleyball standout takes off with emerging sand game

Karina Langli knows a good jump when she sees one.

Langli has been working on precision leaps practically since she was a toddler, developing her jumping techniques as a trained ballet dancer all the way through middle school.

Now she’s part of a new trend that’s taking off.

Langli is among a growing number of excellent San Diego-area volleyball players who are pursuing collegiate sand volleyball (the game known for decades as beach volleyball on the California coast).

Sand volleyball just completed its inaugural season as an NCAA Division I-sanctioned sport earlier this year. Sand volleyball has already been played as a San Diego Section-sanctioned sport for two seasons.

Langli apparently likes what she sees. A San Dieguito Academy senior standout outside hitter, she will play sand volleyball at UC Berkeley next year.

“It’s really exciting to be part of a sport that’s just getting off the ground,” she said. “I feel like you’re making history with college sports and I get to be part of that.”

Other local players who have already made their mark in the sand game include former Canyon Crest Academy standout Samantha Cash, who earlier this year played for a Pepperdine team that won the inaugural NCAA national sand volleyball championship.

“I really just can’t wait to get up to Berkeley to play,” Langli said.

But Langli still has some important business to attend to at SDA.

She’s the captain of a Mustangs team that’s seeking its third consecutive Avocado League East championship.

Langli, who played on the championship varsity teams each of the last two seasons, leads the Mustangs with 235 kills.

Earlier this year, she led the Mustangs to a second-place finish at the prestigious Las Vegas Invitational Championship tournament. She was named to the all-tournament team.

The Las Vegas tournament capped a wildly successful summer for Langli.

In August, she and partner Alexis Jasper-Baylin, placed second at a California Beach Volleyball Association tournament in Santa Cruz.

And to hear Langli tell it, losing in the finals of the prestigious tournament — although disappointing — was an incidental detail.

Langli and Jasper-Baylin, a UCLA freshman who plays on the Bruins’ sand team, played nine matches at the Santa Cruz tournament.

“It was a really tough game, and even though it was really disappointing, I thought that we played really well,” Langli said.

She considers the experience to be among her career highlights.

“That was living the beach volleyball dream, driving up all around California just to play, which is really how it should be.”

Langli acknowledged that the game on the sand is more challenging than the more specialized indoor game. Players are involved in all aspects of every play, compared to the more specialized indoor game.

But it’s a challenge that she says she enjoys.

“It’s a lot more fun when you get to do everything. You’re so specialized (playing) indoors ... you have to do everything in beach, you have to block, hit serve and dig. You have to be an all-around player.”

The beach game also requires better communication and more accountability, Langli said.

“You have to make sure you guys are on the same page, because there’s not one person who’s leading the whole team,” she said. “Sometimes there’s one person that’s louder, so it seems like it is, but it’s definitely a joint effort, because if one person isn’t playing well, then the whole team isn’t playing well.

“You really have to have both players on the same page working towards the same goal.”

It’s also a sport that she believes offers greater opportunities to play professionally after her collegiate days are over.

“It’s really starting to take off on a professional level more, instead of just being for fun,” she said. “It’s exciting to know that maybe I’ll have a chance to go on later in life.”

Langli’s competitiveness extends from the hardwood floors to the beach and back to the classroom, where she’s maintained a 4.12 GPA while taking an Advanced Placement-heavy course load.

She plans to major in political science.

“I’ve always really enjoyed politics since I was younger,” she said. “I just like that it’s a way that you can help other people, even though there is a lot of corruption, and there is always is going to be.”

Langli said she also enjoys the back-and-forth of political debate, saying that she believes people can learn from listening to both sides of the debate.

But just as in volleyball or ballet, Langli also likes to pounce.

“I like arguing with people,” she said, “and I like being right.”

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