DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Turner fell in love with beach, will play at Stanford

When young volleyball players gathered for Xavier Prep’s annual summer camp in 2017, it didn’t take long to figure out which ones had a chance to make a significant contribution to the program.

All you had to do was watch a freshman-to-be, Serena Turner. It was the way she moved, the way she knew where to be most of the time, and the way she put coaches’ instructions into play with little or no confusion.

She went on to make the varsity roster and helped the Gators win 6A Conference state championship in the fall.

That, however, didn’t completely satisfy her desire to achieve excellence.

So she joined the XCP beach volleyball program as a freshman. The sport was not new to her. She had been playing since the eighth grade, and had played indoor since the sixth grade. She did not play indoor for Xavier as a junior in 2019 and will not play indoor as a senior in 2020.

“I fell in love with beach volleyball,’’ she said.

And she continued to soak up the sun and the beach knowledge like a sponge. It served her and the Gators well, as Xavier won the Division I crown during her sophomore season.

Turner liked beach volleyball so much that she applied for the application process (yes, applied for an application) to prestigious Stanford at the end of her freshman season. She completed all of the necessary paperwork and earlier this year was given approval, signaling her commitment that recently became official.

Serena Turner wants to win another state beach volleyball title for Xavier as a senior, then she will move on to Stanford (Xavier photo).
She is hopeful that by the time the spring of 2021 arrives, she won’t have her senior beach season stolen from her and her teammates by the COVID-19 virus as did the seniors in 2020.

The cancellation of the beach season “was heartbreaking,’’ according to Turner.

She said the beach Gators “had a good dynamic, had a real shot to win it again’’ last season.

She felt particularly bad for the seniors, especially playing partner Abby Converse, who went on to be accepted at Stanford and plans to walk on to the beach team at Stanford, according to Turner.

In the spring and particularly this summer, the 6-foot-1 Turner has not let the sand flatten under her feet. She has stayed plenty busy, playing for a club team in the Valley that attempts to beat the heat with 5 a.m. practices at a park in north Scottsdale. The team also participated in a tournament a few weeks ago at the Westworld facility in Scottsdale, playing matches in the signature barn/airplane hangar-type structure. Players did not wear masks during play, but had to use them in between matches.

Turner’s dream is to win another state beach championship for Xavier next spring. Then it’s on to Stanford, Calif., home of the Cardinal. The school’s beach team is aiming for improvement in the Pac-12 Conference that has been dominated by USC and UCLA, which have combined for two national titles each in the last four years.

One of Stanford’s former indoor players, Kerri Walsh (now Jennings) went on to achieve her greatest success in the beach game, winning three Olympic Gold Medals (with Misty May Treanor) and an Olympic Bronze in 2016 (with April Ross).

Turner aches to help the Stanford to climb the charts and calls it “my dream school. It has the academics, the athletics, and the location.’’

The goal is for Turner to perhaps get a double major in Computer Science and Environmental Science. It is the perfect place for the computer domain, as the school is in the middle of the famed Silicon Valley, home to many of the world’s greatest computer companies.

In 2019, Stanford was the world’s No. 2-ranked university for Computer Science, just behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

So there you go. Turner figures to step in and feel comfortable in academics as she has been in volleyball. But she is the first to tell you that it won’t be given to her. She knows she will have to work very hard for it.

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