By Gideon Rubin
The rigors of playing elite level volleyball year-round offers little in the way of downtime, let alone much time for self-reflection.
But Samantha Cash developed a different perspective during a six-month period during her sophomore year at Pepperdine, when the former Canyon Crest Academy volleyball standout was sidelined with an ankle injury.
“For so long I was ‘the girl who plays sports,’” said Cash, who started out playing competitive youth soccer before going on to volleyball stardom.
“My life always revolved around sports.”
Cash severely sprained an ankle at the end of her sophomore season that required surgery. She left the hospital in a wheelchair and spent many weeks afterward on crutches.
She has made a full recovery, continuing a stellar collegiate career that includes helping lead the Waves to a national sand volleyball championship in the sport’s first year as an officially sanctioned NCAA sport. But she said that during her recovery, she found herself asking herself questions she’d never before contemplated.
“The thing about the (injury) was that I couldn’t play volleyball, there was no physical way for me to play volleyball, and it made me start to re-evaluate my life as far as who I am without volleyball,” she said.
“It kind of made me just look around and wonder, ‘OK, what else is there for me to do? How else can I make the most of my time if I can’t always work towards getting better physically? What else am I doing to make myself better spiritually and emotionally?”
Cash started focusing on developing friendships outside volleyball and spending more time on art projects. Earlier this summer, she traveled the world with her older sister, Alice, in a continuing effort to broaden her horizons.
Alice Cash is an aspiring theater director. Samantha’s younger sister, Gretchen, is making her own mark as a volleyball standout at The Bishop’s School. She is an incoming senior who’s committed to Division I Hofstra.
Samantha Cash’s travels included a visit to Mount Everest’s Northern Base Camp (on the Tibetan side), where an exchange with some pushy merchants quickly turned into an impromptu volleyball lesson at 15,000 feet above sea level.
“I kind of bring volleyball where ever I go,” Cash said.
“None of them spoke any English, and we couldn’t speak any Tibetan, so it was all hand motions and cheering and smiles all the way around.”
The visit to Mount Everest was cut short by a blizzard — in June — that forced them to evacuate.
“We made the last car out,” Cash said. “We were texting our parents that we were OK every five minutes. It was pretty scary.”
Cash’s travels included cultural eye-openers in Abu Dhabi, where she and her sister rode segregated buses — women were separated from men by glass barriers — and in China, where they visited the last Maoist village.
“It was so interesting seeing things you only read about in textbooks and really kind of looking at the past, except having it right in front of you,” Cash said.
Now that she’s back to her volleyball routine, Cash is looking to the future.
Readying for her senior year at Pepperdine, she will play for the U.S. National Team next year. She hopes to represent the United States in the Olympics, possibly as soon as the 2016 games in Rio, although she acknowledges the 2020 Tokyo games are more realistic.
Cash is already considered a transformational figure at Canyon Crest Academy, where her emergence helped propel the upstart program to an appearance in the state tournament in her senior year.
“She was the first real big-time local player to choose CCA,” said Ravens coach Ariel Haas. “Through her, CCA volleyball was put on the map, and it has only grown from there.”
Haas believes Cash’s impact remains a factor in the program’s continued success in recent years. The Ravens were bumped up to the San Diego Section’s elite Open Division last year.
“Her personality and her desire to get better and her desire to win was quite infectious, not only for the players that were there around her, but other players that watched her and wanted to emulate her,” Haas said.
“That only helped to grow the program.”
Cash believes she’s grown, too, noting that her travel experiences contributed to her development.
“I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on any volleyball because I went on this trip,” she said. “I feel like I’ve grown as a person, and that’s just as important.”
For an athlete who aspires to compete internationally, there are obvious tangible benefits to learning how to find your way around while traveling abroad.
Cash also believes she’s found more balance in her life, noting that she’s feeling healthier since learning how to take care of herself better than she used to.
“If I hadn’t had that time to kind of re-evaluate myself as a person and not just as an athlete, I don’t think I would have taken this trip,” Cash said. “I would have thought, ‘Oh, I need to play volleyball now, I need to get better.’”