Grand Canyon beach volleyball player Allison Hansen. (Photo provided by Grand Canyon University)

Grand Canyon beach volleyball player Allison Hansen. (Photo provided by Grand Canyon University)

Local duo leads Grand Canyon beach volleyball into NCAA tourney

Allison Hansen and Samaya Morin are proving that growing up in the Pacific Northwest is no obstacle to excelling on the beach.

During their high school days, Alli Hansen and Samaya Morin used to share the two-plus-hour drive through rush-hour traffic from Everett to Tacoma every Friday evening, enduring the endless stop and go just so they could train in their chosen sport.

Now Hansen and Morin are sharing the sand in Gulf Shores, Alabama, as they try to lead the Grand Canyon University beach volleyball team on a run through the NCAA Tournament.

No, the Pacific Northwest may not be thought of as a beach volleyball hotbed, but Snohomish County natives Hansen and Morin are proving that the drizzle and chill needn’t be an obstacle to excelling on the beach.

Hansen, who’s from Everett and attended King’s High School, is a junior who is part of Grand Canyon’s No. 1 pairing alongside Abbie Hughes. Morin, a sophomore who’s a Lake Stevens High School graduate, teams with Allanis Navas on Court 2 for the Lopes. Both are 6-footers who are the blocker of their pairing, with their partner being the defensive specialist.

They are key figures for a Grand Canyon team that is seeded seventh in the 16-team single-elimination NCAA tournament, which takes place Friday through Sunday. The Lopes face No. 10 Stanford in the first round at noon (Pacific Time) Friday. Each team fields five pairings, with the first to three victories advancing.

“They are doing great,” Grand Canyon coach Kristen Rohr said about Hansen’s and Morin’s seasons. “Both put in a ton of work last summer and had big goals for themselves.

“Alli has great ball control and is a phenomenal setter,” Rohr added. “She sides out at a really high level, and she’s the best puller on our team in terms of getting off the net and digging balls that are hit at her. Samaya is a big presence at the net, and I feel she’s really tough mentally. Last year she was in some really tough situations as a freshman and she was able to stay steady and mentally tough.”

So how did a pair of PNW volleyballers end up on the beach?

Both Hansen and Morin have backgrounds in indoor volleyball, playing for club teams and their high schools — Morin was The Herald’s Volleyball Player of the Year in 2019 as a junior at Lake Stevens. However, they had differing reasons for pivoting to the beach.

For Hansen it began with watching her uncle compete in beach tournaments. Once she tried it out herself she liked having more responsibility as one of two rather than one of six.

“I didn’t like playing indoor,” Hansen said. “I don’t like relying on five other people, it’s more enjoyable when I only have to rely on myself and my partner and don’t have to worry about other people on the court. Plus I’m more of an introvert, so it’s easier for me.”

For Morin it’s more about the location. Playing on sand is also easier on her knees than playing on floor.

“My biggest thing is just being outside,” Morin said. “I like traveling to locations that are nice destinations and have great beaches, it’s a little more of a chill energy. I much prefer eight hours at the beach than in a convention center. Also, on the beach I’m a bigger girl who can move, which is more of an asset out here than in indoor, where I don’t have as much size for my position.”

Once they committed to beach volleyball, they both joined DaKine Volleyball Club in Tacoma, which has an indoor beach facility that allows players to continue training when it’s a rainy and blustery 40 degrees outside during the winter months — hence the long car trips to Tacoma on Fridays and Sundays. While Hansen and Morin knew of each other and played against one another in indoor volleyball previously, it was during those long car rides that they became friends.

Hansen caught Rohr’s attention early into her beach volleyball adventure and committed to Grand Canyon, which is located in Phoenix, as a high school sophomore. While Hansen didn’t actively recruit Morin to join her at Grand Canyon, her comfort level at the school was a factor in Morin joining her in Phoenix a year later.

Both have thrived with the Lopes. They helped Grand Canyon reach the NCAA Tournament last year, with Hansen playing on Court 2 and Morin on Court 3. They both placed in the top 10 at the Fall Collegiate Beach Championships in November, with Hansen and Hughes placing third and Morin and Dana Roskic placing 10th at the tournament that serves as the individual national championships. And both are part of USA Volleyball’s beach development program.

Last weekend Grand Canyon participated in its first ever Coastal Collegiate Sports Association tournament, as the Lopes are newcomers in the beach volleyball powerhouse conference. Seeded No. 4, Grand Canyon beat South Carolina in the first round, upset top-seeded TCU in the quarterfinals, then beat third-seeded LSU to reach the championship match. Morin and Navas won all three of their matches — including Morin putting down the decisive third-set kill against LSU as Grand Canyon won a 3-2 squeaker — while Hansen and Hughes won two and didn’t complete their third as the match was already clinched.

TCU got revenge against Grand Canyon in the championship match, but both Hansen and Hughes and Morin and Navas won their first sets and were still playing when the Horned Frogs clinched the match. Both pairs were among the six named to the all-tournament team.

Because Hansen and Morin are both blockers, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll ever play together at Grand Canyon. However, they’ll finally get their chance to team up this summer as they plan on playing at the AVPNext Tour’s Seaside Open in August, pitting their abilities against professional competition.

”Neither of us are defenders and probably won’t be as graceful as we wish. We’ll probably hurt ourselves,” Hansen quipped.

But Hansen and Morin have more pressing matters this weekend. The Lopes feel they were under-seeded following their success in their conference tournament, and they’re also motivated from having lost 4-1 at Stanford in April.

“We didn’t finish the way we wanted last year,” Morin said, referencing Grand Canyon’s first-round exit at the hands of lower-seeded Georgia State. “Now we have the experience with all the cameras, the pressure, not having a coach on the court at all times. Everyone’s dream is to win, but our goal is to do it as a family and finish the season super strong.”

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