Collegiate volleyball players, Parkites, revel in victorious return home | ParkRecord.com

Collegiate volleyball players, Parkites, revel in victorious return home

You never know who's going to show up at a tournament. For example, on Independence Day, Tressa Buckland and Sammee Thomas, two well-ranked collegiate beach volleyball players from University of Alabama in Birmingham and Stetson University in Florida, respectively, won the women's open division of Park City's 36th annual July 4 doubles tournament. Then again, both are Park City natives, having graduated from Park City High School in 2015, and Thomas won the tournament last year alongside Dani Barton, a Brighton High School alumna.

For Buckland, who plays beach volleyball for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, it seemed appropriate to defend their home court.

"(Thomas) and I haven't played together in a long time, so it was fun to get the band back together," Buckland said.

Despite pairing up with one half of the fifth-ranked NCAA beach volleyball team, Buckland said the competition was tough.

"It's always strong," she said. "The women out here are so good at what they do because they're all so practiced and strong — I was amazed at how they had their kids on the sideline and Sammee and I were huffing and puffing trying to chase down a ball."

The duo defeated second-place finishers Tambre Nobles, a former outside hitter at Brigham Young University, and Nina Mortensen, while Traci Walsh, a former National Volleyball League player, and Angela Paterson, took third in the women's open. According to Buckland, she and Thomas dropped one set in four matches to win.

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On the men's open side, Michael Nelson and Bobby Webb took first, followed by Neil Birrell and Brett Buker in second and Brad Collins and Cori Kamana'o in third.

Lauren Howerter, tournament director and recreation coordinator at Park City Recreation, said this year's tournament was one of the biggest yet, with 121 two-person teams. She said the annual event drew semi-pro players and high-level recreational players, some of whom were searching for points in the Utah Outdoor Volleyball Association, which sanctions the event.

Buckland started playing volleyball alongside Thomas when they were students at Ecker Hill Middle School, playing through a Basin Recreation after-school league.

The two continued to play together through high school, where Buckland realized she could play beach volleyball in college.

"It's fun in the sun!" She said, explaining her love of the game. "It's relaxed but still competitive and intense at the same time, and you get to touch the ball more, and nothing beats being out on the sand."

Buckland said playing with Thomas was "like (they) never left."

"It was just like practicing out there when we were in high school," Buckland said. "The only thing that was super different was the high altitude — wasn't used to that. But playing in Park City is the best because nowhere else can you play, then look up at those mountains. That was pretty cool."

Buckland, a rising senior majoring in public health, said she is looking forward to being "a big bad senior," and hopes to make her mark on the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association, the NCAA Divison I conference in which the UAB Blazers compete in beach volleyball, ideally by earning a championship ring.