Along with teaching hard work and skills, the Desert Ridge volleyball program has helped girls make new friends.
Junior defensive specialist Lorianna Martin, 16, grew up in Tempe and moved to Mesa at age 10. Martin is half Hispanic and half African-American and, while growing up in a mainly white neighborhood, she noticed from a young age that there weren’t many other people who looked like her.
Mesa is 82 percent white, 27 percent Hispanic and 4 percent Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau as of 2019.
“I often compared myself,” Martin said. “I felt left out and couldn’t really relate to others because of my skin color.”
Martin needs time with a person before opening up and becoming the outgoing person her teammates know her to be.
“She is a little quiet at first,” senior captain Brandi Worthington said. “But once you get to know her she's super funny, and she is a lot of fun to be around.”
Martin credits high school volleyball for breaking down barriers and enabling her to make new friends.
“We all have the same thing in common: we like volleyball,” Martin said. “No one on the team lets skin color make a separation between us.”
One of Martin’s teammates and best friends, Tatum Begay, can attest to this as well.
Originally from Farmington, New Mexico, Begay moved to Gilbert at age 12 and then to Mesa at age 14. Begay describes Farmington as “a small town” and “not very safe”. She recalls a lot of gang activity and high crime rates, and coming to Arizona was a big change of pace for her.
“The schools and people are definitely more safe,” Begay said.
As a Native American growing up in Mesa, Begay struggled to make connections with others. Farmington is predominantly Native American and, despite its hazardous conditions, it was home for her. Making the switch to Mesa made Begay feel out of place.
“We lived in a neighborhood full of really nice houses and it was just a huge difference and it was hard to kind of connect to people in my positions,” Begay said. “The environment has a huge impact on the way people are and how they treat you.”
Joining the volleyball team came at a crucial time in Begay’s life. During eighth grade, she didn’t have many friends which resulted in a tough year.
It wasn’t until freshman year on the volleyball team when she met Martin and soon became friends.
“That's why I was able to bond with Lorianna so quickly because we talked about how we kind of grew up in the same environment,” Begay said. “We knew that and it's kind of hard to connect with other people and when they haven't grown up in the same environment.”
Begay cites Desert Ridge volleyball for helping her break out of her shell.
“I have all my friends that I made in high school through volleyball,” Begay said. “They're very accepting and we all have one goal and that's just to win.”
Some of Begay’s best memories of high school come from playing volleyball, whether it's team dinners after games or team bonding during practices.
Martin and Begay are now more confident than ever and have bright futures to look toward.
“[Volleyball] gave me a huge motivation to work hard,” Begay said. “It made me realize I do more in my life than thought I could.”
Noah Velasco is a sports journalism major at Arizona State University covering Desert Ridge High School.