Desert Duo Thrives On The Beach

The salt, the surf, and the beach, are a few things thought of with beach volleyball. It seems like a different world from the deserts of Arizona, but two top recruits from the Valley are making a run at the sport’s best in the California.

“It’s very obvious when you get into California tournaments that they run everything. You definitely have to earn their respect and you have to go out and play hard and give them a run for their money,” Desert Vista setter Jenna Tunnell said.

Tunnell and Chaparral’s Maddy Roh have done just that. Both players made names for themselves within the indoor volleyball community. Tunnell was named a 2014 First-team Under Armour All-American. Roh was a 2013 All-State selection and leader of the Firebird volleyball team as a junior.

Two years ago, in an attempt to improve their conditioning for indoor volleyball, the duo tried their hand at beach volleyball. What started as additional training quickly evolved into an admiration for the sport. They would travel constantly to California for tournaments, and these two desert dwellers made their mark quickly.

“We came out really strong our very first season going to California when I was able to be with Maddy full-time,” Tunnell said. “We actually won the majority of the tournaments we played in. So it was really cool to go out there and kind of test the waters a little bit and match up against California girls that have been out there for like their whole lives.”

Both Tunnell and Roh are now committed to play sand volleyball at Pepperdine next year. Tunnell will be playing both indoor and sand, while Roh has fully focused on her sand volleyball training. She decided not to play her season indoor season with Chaparral to prepare for her sand volleyball career at Pepperdine.

“You’re good at what you practice. I’m committed to Pepperdine for sand, and as much as I love the girls at Chaparral, it’s very time consuming,” Roh said. “I don’t know if (my body) could have handled playing sand on the weekends, driving back from California, and then doing practice for six days a week…it wouldn’t contribute to my development of my sand skills I would need to bring in to Pepperdine.”

Roh comes from a family of Division-I athletes. Her oldest brother, Craig, was a defensive end and 2008-09 Gatorade Player of the Year at Chaparral. He started all four years at the University of Michigan, and played for the Carolina Panthers before being recently cut. Luke Roh is a senior basketball player at Colgate University, and Jake Roh is a redshirt freshman tight end at Boise State. Growing up the youngest of four talented athletes bred a sense of tenacity Roh displays in volleyball.

“How do you explain that (childhood)? Competitive. It was always me against my brothers, and I thank them for making me the competitor that I am today,” Roh said. “I had to hold my own in that house. It was always competitive, but we were a family.”

Tunnell, who also comes from a family of athletes, has a brother playing baseball at Baylor. She came off a historic year for Desert Vista Volleyball. The Thunder won the state championship and ranked fifth in the nation according to the MaxPreps Computer Rankings. Tunnell led the way, and received the All-American nod, as well as winning the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year.

“It’s been an incredible season. It’s really nice as a senior to come off on such a high note. It’s a positive ending leading into this whole thing with Maddy, which is also exciting. It’s just a bunch of exciting events back-to-back,” Tunnell said.

While Roh has been spending almost every weekend making drives to California to train and compete in tournaments, Tunnell had to wait for the high school season to end before resuming beach training. She wasted no time getting back into the sand, though. The day after Desert Vista won their state championship, Tunnell was training by Roh’s side.

“One of my main priorities when I went on my visit was if I was to go to Pepperdine, I could play both. There are two different seasons, which is kind of nice. For the long run, you can focus on indoor, and then beach starts right when the summer starts, so you can ease into it. It’s going to be hard, but I think it will be doable,” Tunnell said.

These already accomplished volleyball stars are coached by Ryan Mariano, a decorated sand volleyball player and coach. Mariano is one of the premiere sand volleyball coaches in the state of Arizona, and Tunnell and Roh were two of his first four players he coached in the Valley.

“He changed (sand volleyball) from a hobby to an actual sport. He taught us everything from technique to wind, sun, and the system of it all. Before, we were just playing to play, and he taught us basically everything.” Tunnell said, laughing.

So the girls are taking their talents to the beach.   With the help of Maraino, they have established themselves as a duo to beat in the women’s division, the level below professional. Tunnell and Roh hope playing at the high level will provide the growth they need to thrive at Pepperdine.

“Since we’re going to college, we’re going to need the competitiveness. That’s what they have to offer. It’s a different mindset” Roh said.

With “Division-I Athlete” nearly branded within both player’s genetic code, and the extensive resume in just two years time, four more years and the beach in their backyard will bring this duo to new heights.

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