Local Sports

From Bragg to Team USA – Merritt Beason Has Become an Elite Player in Women’s Volleyball

Our area loves sports. They make up a large part of what we do and how we plan our schedules. Watching our kids and grandkids grow up playing on teams is part of the fabric of our lives.

Sometimes, an athlete comes along, and you can feel he or she is different. We have all experienced it. We say things like “hey, that kid has a shot at playing at the next level.”

If you had the ability to create a women’s volleyball player, like you can create players on a video game, she would have all the attributes of Merritt Beason. The height, the intellect, the drive, the vertical leap, the skill set and the character and personality.

The University of Florida, and many other colleges, saw it. Anyone who watched her play knew it.

The University of Florida is one of the top women’s volleyball programs is the country, with elite players. Merritt started her freshman year. On top of that, she was awarded a place on the All-SEC Freshman Team and, as was recently announced, was chosen, as a freshman, to represent our country on TEAM USA.

From playing on her first volleyball team in 6th grade to now being one of the elite women’s volleyball players in the United States, Merritt has a story to tell of sacrifice, dedication, and a desire to follow her dream as a 12 year old girl to be the best.

We wanted to learn about her journey and what it took for her to get to where she is today.

It wasn’t easy. It never is.

Treye Hanner: Tell our readers about growing up in Gardendale?

Merritt Beason: Growing up in Gardendale was special in so many ways.  I loved the feel of being in a small town. The community is truly something special.  The support and love that I received while home and that I still receive now is so encouraging.  I have had the same core group of friends from a very young age to now, and I think that is so special.

There were also some frustrations of being from Gardendale.  Volleyball was not a big thing at all.  Many of my travel ball teammates were on school ball teams who were competing for state titles each year.  And in Gardendale, there were very few girls that even knew about volleyball, let alone saw it as a serious sport.  However, I loved Gardendale and wanted to change that.  I wanted little girls to want to play volleyball, want to pick up a volleyball while playing in PE, and I wanted them to see that volleyball was something that they could make a life out of, and that it could be a way to get your college paid for.

Treye Hanner: What sports did you play before discovering volleyball? What age were you when you first played volleyball on a team?

Merritt Beason: I played soccer and did dance at a really young age.  Around the age of 5 I began gymnastics.  I did gymnastics all the way up until the summer before 6th grade.  The fall of my 6th grade year I began playing volleyball at the club that I ended up playing at all throughout my youth career.  That November was the first time I was officially on a team.  I then tried out for the middle school team in the spring.

Photo courtesy of Lori Beason

Treye Hanner: Did you know after playing volleyball for the first time that you only wanted to dedicate your time to the one sport?

Merritt Beason: Yes, I fell in love with the sport almost immediately.  During my first season, when I was 12 years old and in the 6th grade, I knew that I wanted to take it as far as I could.

Treye Hanner: Once you knew volleyball was the sport you wanted to focus on, how did you approach getting better? How did you discover the path you needed to take to have an opportunity to play at the next level?

Merritt Beason: Luckily, the club that I was playing travel volleyball for had a solid understanding of what it took to get to the next level.  I continued to play for that club and train with them.  I would get in the gym as much as I could.  Any chance that I was able to get to the gym and get reps, I was going.

Photo courtesy of Vicki Unlap. FODaction.com.

Treye Hanner: How much travel was involved in playing volleyball and what were the challenges as a teenager in balancing school, practice, travel and having free time?

Merritt Beason: Volleyball in Alabama is not a big thing compared to other states.  So, travel became a huge part of my life.  Most of my tournaments over the years were in Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Florida, and Tennessee, with the occasional trip to South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia.

Out of my 6 years of playing on a travel volleyball team, I probably competed in only about 6-8 tournaments in Alabama.  My club was in Irondale, and then moved to Hoover.  I drove about 30 minutes, depending on traffic, to and from practice.  Typically, I had practice 4 days a week, sometimes only 3.  I left straight from school, sometimes early if my teachers would allow it, drove straight to practice, and practiced for 3-4 hours each day.  I would not get home until about 8, then I would eat dinner and complete my homework.

After my freshman year of high school, I made the decision to do virtual school through Athens Renaissance School.  I also did not play high school ball that year.  I used the extra time to train and continue growing in the sport.  I knew that if I wanted to play at the highest level, it was something I had to do.  But by doing it, many things were added to the list of things I missed out on.

Treye Hanner: Do you feel like you missed out on doing other things by dedicating yourself to your volleyball schedule while in school?

Merritt Beason: In many ways yes, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  I missed out on many sporting events and social events. I missed the prom and the senior homecoming game. I also missed half my senior year and about a year and a half of my high school experience due to virtual school so that I had more time to travel and train.

Treye Hanner: What age were you when you first knew that coaches were seriously looking at you for recruitment?

Merritt Beason: I received my first few letters of interest following my 8th grade season of travel ball.  After I received my first letters, my recruiting began to take off immediately.  I received my first offer during the spring of my freshman year.  I continued to talk to coaches, take visits, and narrow down my choices.  On March 14, 2019, my sophomore year of high school, I committed to the University of Florida.

Photo courtesy of Merritt Beason

Treye Hanner: For the student-athletes reading this, what is your advice to them? Many of them would like to follow in your footsteps.

Merritt Beason: My biggest advice would be trust the process and trust God.  He knows what plans He has for you, and if playing college sports is a part of that plan, it will happen.  Work hard, stay humble, and trust.   Get in the gym, get extra reps, and do not be scared to make sacrifices to chase your dreams.

Treye Hanner: The University of Florida has one of the best women’s volleyball programs in the country. What was it like being from a small town like Gardendale and being recruited by an elite program?

Merritt Beason: It is a dream come true.  UF was my dream school and program, I knew from a very young age that Gainesville was where I wanted to be.  If I’m being honest, it still does not feel real.  I often catch myself walking or driving around campus and thinking “Oh crap Merritt you’re really here right now.”

I think being from a small town makes it even more special.  The support and love that I receive from everyone back home is unreal.  For example, coming to Tuscaloosa for the first time in my career, and having so many people from home travel down to support me was insane.  I feel so honored and blessed to be from Gardendale and to be in a position to represent our town.

Treye Hanner: What was it like going to your first practice at UF around that level of talent on your team?

Merritt Beason: Oh boy, the first few weeks of practice were rough.  It was a mentally challenging time for sure.  Things like questioning if I even belong here and am I good enough to be here.  Coming from high school and being thrown into the Gator volleyball gym was hard.  The girls are bigger, better, faster, stronger, older, and more experienced.  It was definitely hard and a learning curve, but it shaped me into the player I am today.

During the Gators’ match against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday, November 27, 2021 at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky / UAA Communications photo by Hannah White

Treye Hanner: You recently received the high honor of making the All-SEC Freshman Team. Does an honor like this make you appreciate all the hard work and dedication it took to achieve it?

Merritt Beason: Absolutely.  It is always nice and rewarding to see your hard work pay off.  I think it is extremely special to me because of everything that I sacrificed and all of things I missed out on to be where I am today.

Treye Hanner: You now have the opportunity, as you move into your sophomore year, to become one of the best in the country at your sport. What will it take moving forward to achieve that?

Merritt Beason: Continuing to get stronger, faster, and quicker.  Continuing to grow each of my skills and fine tune the little things.  Another big thing for me is growing in my confidence and leadership skills as well.

Treye Hanner: Where do you go from here? What’s next for Merritt Beason?

Merritt Beason: On the volleyball side, I am continuing to grow and get better.  I want to be the best that I can be for myself, but more importantly for my team and our program.  The University of Florida has yet to win a national championship in volleyball, so that is the goal right now.  SEC championships and a national championship are the goals.  I also plan to continue growing the sport in Gardendale, with camps and lessons for young girls.

On the educational and future side, I am studying to get my degree in Elementary Education.  After my time at UF, I plan on continuing my volleyball career in some way, either professionally or switching to beach volleyball.  When my volleyball career is finished, I plan to move back to Alabama and become an elementary school teacher and maybe one day open a volleyball club.