Mattie Dalton and Kate Denker only started playing beach volleyball together during the summer of 2018, but the two Fremont girls can now call themselves national champions.
Dalton and Denker, both 12, won the USA Beach Volleyball Regional Division 12U Championship during a tournament July 18-20 in Manhattan Beach, California.
“It is unbelievable to win it coming from Nebraska and playing teams that play (beach) year-round,” Denker said. “It just feels amazing.”
The two girls, who will be seventh-graders at the Fremont Middle School this fall, went 3-1 in pool play on the opening day of the tournament. Their lone loss came to a team from Texas. They notched wins against Texas, Ohio and Missouri. On Day 2, they went 4-0 with wins against three different Texas teams and one squad from Colorado.
In bracket play on the final day, the Nebraskans beat New Mexico, California, Hawaii and Woodlands, Texas, to earn the championship.
“We were really happy to win,” Dalton said. “I think it just showed us that our hard work paid off.”
The two girls compete for the Fremont Volleyball Club during the indoor season where they are coached by Karen Nelsen and Diane Theis. Dalton’s father, Aaron, said that the Fremont team compiled a 47-3 record competing in Gold level 12U tournaments this past season. Of the 10 girls on the team, eight plan on eventually attending Fremont High.
At Elite, Andrew Wehrli of Omaha Duchesne serves as one of the coaches for Dalton and Denker. Both girls play multiple sports, but there is no doubt which one they like best.
“No other sport compares to volleyball,” Dalton said.
“I play basketball and occasionally tennis, but volleyball is my favorite,” Denker said.
Dalton said the teammates improved immensely from the beach season of 2018 to this summer.
“I think our volleyball IQ has gotten a lot better,” she said. “Now we go more for shots. It used to be just about how hard we would hit, but that doesn’t always work.”
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Denker said she loves the aspects of the two-person game.
“I like that every point you get a touch on the ball,” she said. “In court (indoors), you don’t always get a touch on the ball. You both need to be able to pass and hit and know where the opponents are.”
The beach season in Nebraska started last month, but Dalton and Denker got a head start on it.
“Kate and I live close to Clemmons (Park) so we’ll go over there and hit the ball around, but our practices actually don’t start until June,” Dalton said.
Denker said the toughest match of the tournament for the Nebraskans may have come in the semifinals against Ava Hipa and Melahi Palencia of Hawaii.
“Everyone told us how good they were and how much they practiced,” she said. “I think that was definitely our hardest match.”
Dalton and Denker won the first set 21-17. The Fremonters then used strong serving to win the second 21-10 to advance to the final.
“Mattie has more of a laser-type serve and I pick my spots more,” Denker said.
Against Woodlands in the final, Dalton and Denker won the opening set 21-15. Texas rebounded for a 21-13 win in the second to set up a winner-take-all third set to 15. On match point at 14-11, the Texans had a passing error on a Dalton serve securing the title for Nebraska.
Both girls credit their parents, Aaron and Danielle Dalton and Adam and Kathy Denker, as well as their club coaches with helping them succeed. They are already looking forward to next summer.
“I’d definitely like to go back and defend our title next year,” Dalton said.