New Beginnings In Michigan

Last week was the first time I got to hit the court with my new team in Grand Rapids, Michigan! It was one heck of a week! The whole time I felt like I was living in a dream. Throughout the day I kept asking myself, “Sarah, Is this real life?” Well, it turns out it is. Never would I have imagined getting an opportunity to return to indoor volleyball let alone play as a pro on home soil. When my last college season ended in 2017 I didn’t think I would return, but 5 years later a door has opened for me here in Michigan and I am so grateful.

As I traveled back to Phoenix for the holidays, I had so much to reflect on from the week. The word that comes to mind when I look back is “NEW”. Everything was new for me. A new city, a new team, and a whole new adventure were upon me! 

For starters, the weather was a bit “New’ haha….but I knew when I signed in Grand Rapids I was getting myself into a climate I had never lived in before. I’ve grown up on the West Coast my whole life so the word “COLD” isn’t used frequently in my vocabulary. 

Growing up in AZ we call ourselves “Phoenicians” or “Zonies”. In Phoenix, we don’t go outside in the summer cause it’s 110+ degrees. We live in a climate where you can cook an egg on your sidewalk at noon and bake some cookies on the dashboard of your car while you’re runnin errands. Grand Rapids, well,  is Phoenix’s polar opposite. You don’t go outside in the winter, well, because you would quite possibly freeze to death. To say the least my first week in Michigan was a shock to my warm Phoenician blood the moment I stepped off the plane haha. I keep telling myself I’ll get used to it but we’ll see when I start seeing the single digits in January.

Though I love talking about the weather….. there were so many other amazing things about visiting Grand Rapids! One of the best parts of the whole trip was meeting and getting to know my new teammates! I’ll start by saying the first day my heart was pumping at full speed. That first morning before meeting my team I felt like a kid waking up for their first day of middle school. When you wake up with that nervous, anxious, exciting feeling knowing you were about to embark on something new, something so exciting, and you were about to meet so many new classmates! Well, as I pushed the button to go down to the lobby, all those same feelings were flyin around, and questions started unloading in my brain like, “Will they like me? “Will I make new friends?” “Sarah, just act normal.” “Try to be funny…but not too funny.”  I was re-living middle school all over again as a full-fledged adult. As I turned the corner to meet my teammates I just started with a simple, “Hello, my name is Sarah.”  Looking back I think that was a good start to the introduction haha. From there on out all the other emotions dissipated and only “PURE EXCITEMENT remained the rest of the week.

Over the week between car rides to the arena, walks to dinner, and talks during water breaks, bit by bit I got to know something new and exciting about my teammates!

It is just amazing to see the gifts that we have all been given, to hear about their families, siblings, where they grew up, the colleges they played for, and their experiences overseas. Everyone has walked completely different lives and and to think of how ALL of us have ended up here in Grand Rapids playing for the PVF in its inaugural season blows my mind. I do believe God has us right where we need to be. And getting to meet this amazing group of women along with the coaching staff was the highlight of it all.

I’ve been on enough teams to know you can have the best talent in the world but if you don’t have great people, with great character, who can humble themselves to know they can always grow as players and as people, makes for a tough road ahead. When you work hard and focus on people with “good character”, that’s a team that can handle the highs, the lows, and the bumps along the road. Those are the teams people want to play for and it’s a team I saw forming before my eyes this past week. 

Meeting the team was a highlight but I can’t leave out the actual volleyball part of it; the reason we were all there in the first place right?! We had three training sessions over the week and every time we stepped on the court I felt like a kid in an ice cream shop, without the ice cream, but playing with a volleyball. WOOHOO!! It was a blast getting out there with the team for the first time and seeing the chemistry and communication build between us all as the week went on! 

I will stop here in this blog and say that coming from a beach volleyball background for the past 5 years, the indoor environment took a bit of getting used to. I’m used to being on a calm beach, stepping in that square sandbox with only 1 other person next to me and seeing only two opponents on the other side. During beach training you might hear a coach say something, you may look off in the distance and see a family of dolphins in the water, or hear the waves crashing nearby. My point is it’s quite calm.

Indoor is a whole different story. I opened my eyes and here I was standing on a hardwood floor, with no dolphins or waves crashing nearby. Instead, I had with me five new teammates and another 6 on the other side. The ball is coming twice as fast, there are 11 more voices, balls are flying everywhere, and whistles and electronic scoreboards are ringin’. Wowza!!!! My brain was on overdrive at first. I like to compare it to walking into a “Whole Foods”. When you step in there, it’s a full-blown city, there are 6 restaurants, an open bar, a soap-making area, and a pharmacy. It’s busy and bumpin’!

  Long story short, I quickly got used to the new indoor environment and I truly loved every second of it. I  loved that feeling of getting into a gym and competing hard against my teammates. I loved seeing the smiles, hearing the bantering across the net, and seeing the team huddles and high-fives galore! 

One of the last and most favorite nights of the week for me was our Showcase on Thursday night. That night was spectacular for so many reasons. From the kid’s clinic, to showing off some skills for the fans and ending with an autograph signing at the end made for lots of fun for everyone! Throughout the night I was experiencing feelings I hadn’t felt in years since 2017.

“The whole night I was thinking to myself; there is no better feeling than walking into a stadium, the crowd is cheering, the music is playin’ classic bangers, you’re lining up on the line with your squad and the stadium goes pitch black. You all turn around and the jumbo tron is playing a lit video highlighting bad*ss women. These women who are full of talent, who are powerful and gritty. And as you take your eyes off the screen and stare down the line, you know that that’s your team you’re going out to battle with.”

It’s hard for me to explain that feeling, but it’s a feeling I have missed and haven’t experienced in years. I knew that it was just a fun night for the fans to see us play a bit but wowwww when that video stopped and the lights came back on I was ready to go to war.

As chills were racing up and down my body I knew at that moment I was meant to be standing there with that group of women. 

After we showed the fans some skills, the best part of my night was meeting the fans and signing autographs. It was so great talking to the parents and seeing how excited the kids were to have a pro women’s league in their city! I’ve learned that Grand Rapids is a hockey town.  The boys can play their hockey, but it’s about time we got a pro league for the girls to play and get excited about! PVF is coming to the rescue.

These are the nights I remember the most. I love seeing the little girls at the clinic laughing, grabbing their best friend they brought to the camp and peppering off to the side. I love seeing them all light up when you sign just a simple piece of paper because I remember being that girl growing up. I remember going to ASU games down the street thinking those girls who were suited up and playing were the coolest people on the planet and that I wanted to be standing in their shoes one day. I never knew as a kid really what college was, let alone what came after college. All I knew was that I loved volleyball and wanted to play as long as I could. The road wasn’t as clear for me, but with the help of the PVF, these kiddos can see a straight road to making volleyball a lasting career if they so choose! It is a special moment in history.

I could sit here and write about more highlights of last week but to be quite frank…. I haven’t done any Christmas shopping and I can feel the anxiety creeping in. I’ll end this by saying that I really couldn’t have imagined a better first week in my new home in Grand Rapids. The team, the people, the volleyball, the fans, it all left me feeling so loved and filled with joy! I’ll be soaking in all the rays of sunshine and cactus views in Phoenix before I head back to Michigan in January. Until then, I’m sitting here feeling so grateful. I am grateful to God and I am grateful to the Grand Rapids Rise for opening the door for me to take my first steps into the world of professional indoor volleyball.

Happy holidays:)


Sarah Sponcil is a prominent figure in the world of professional volleyball, known for her exceptional skills, work ethic and achievements on the court. Born on August 16, 1996, in Phoenix, Arizona, Sponcil began her volleyball journey at the age of three and has been showcasing her immense talent and dedication to the sport ever since.

Garnering three high school state championships in Arizona, and two NCAA national championships at UCLA, Sponcil’s career reached new heights when she represented the United States at the 2020 Olympic Games. At 24 years of age, Sponcil became the second youngest beach volleyball player to ever represent Team USA in the Olympic Games and, together with her partner Kelly Claes, were the youngest beach volleyball team to ever represent Team USA in the Olympic Games.

Following her Olympic success, Sponcil has continued to excel as a professional volleyball athlete, earning numerous accolades and recognition for her prowess as both an indoor and beach volleyball player. Her versatility, athleticism, and relentless determination has solidified her reputation as one of the top players in the sport and make her a force to be reckoned with on any volleyball court.

Off the court, Sponcil is known for her humility, work ethic, and commitment to her faith, family, and desire to inspire the next generation of athletes. She serves as a role model for aspiring volleyball players worldwide, demonstrating that with passion, perseverance and dedication, anything is possible in the world of sports.

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See me live in action with Grand Rapids Rise online or in person!