Zoe Martinez, left, and Nadia Karabanoff have formed a strong partnership in beach volleyball despite limited opportunities to play together.

Local duo qualified third at junior national qualifier

Zoe Martinez and Nadia Karabanoff are two volleyball players who fell in love with the beach.

There the two formed a bond and a two-man volleyball team this summer and although their run was cut short, the early returns have been positive.

The sophomores, Martinez from Goose Creek Memorial and Karabanoff of Barbers Hill play regularly in Galveston in a series of tournaments held there by the Gulf States Volleyball Association. They took a shot at trying to qualify for the USA National Beach Tour – Junior Championships in Manhattan Beach, California, in a regional qualifier.

When the flying sand settled, the two finished third and booked their tickets to California for next week’s tournament.

However, personal commitments will prevent the girls from making the trip. They expect to continue to play moving forward and close the deal on their qualification in the next season.

“There were a lot of tough teams out there – a lot of girls were much taller than we were  - so we had to strategize,” Karabanoff said. “The game was just strategy and finding the holes that weren’t there and going hard. It was so exciting finishing third. I didn’t know where we were going to place since we hadn’t played much together. I didn’t have my hopes too high on qualifying.”

The two basically executed no-block, all-dig transition strategy since they were so much shorter at the net. However, Karabanoff took the lead if a block was called.

“We were usually back playing defense,” Karabanoff said. “That’s what we are both strong at.”

Martinez is a 5-1 setter while Karabanoff offered the duo’s tall timber as a 5-7 outside hitter.

“We don’t have to worry about anyone else, just ourselves,” Martinez said. “Nadia when I set her up, she automatically puts the ball down. For me? I know where to place it and I know what’s open. A lot of teams don’t know who to serve to because she can put the ball away and I can place it. They always go after me first.

“I score a lot of points on serving and know how to put the ball away. That’s why I love beach volleyball because I can play the entire time and can play every position.”

The girls wrap up the summer hoping to play a few more events.

 “We’re going to finish out our schedule,” Martinez said. “We play every other Saturday in Galveston where there are different tournaments.”

The two have placed well in the other few competitions and might be eyeballing a chance to play at the GCVA Hot as Hell Classic on East Beach in Galveston to be held Aug. 4.

Martinez said she would likely enter the 16U field, one of over a dozen classifications of play to be held that day. 

She is not sure whom she would play with – either Karabanoff or GCM teammate Taylor Kotlarz as schedules have to be figured out with the indoor season starting.

Martinez and Karabanoff built their union after running into each other at numerous camps during the past few years.

“I got to know her a lot better,” Martinez said. “Now we go to the same volleyball club – Absolute Volleyball Academy.”

Martinez had a solid freshmen year, but this summer has seen her gain more traction as a player to watch as her level of setting has increased. 

It has also helped her indoor game, which will be put to the test when the new season tips off in August.

“Pretty much I have been doing a lot more training; I do a lot more at my house with my dad nonstop,” Martinez said. “We work on getting better setting-wise and speed-wise. Beach volleyball helped me tremendously in reading the other side of the court better. After being out on the sand all day, after that, you get on the court, you are so much faster and you can jump (higher).”

Both girls believe as they play more together they should become a force in the sand game.

“We anticipate playing in more tournaments together,” Karabanoff said. “We are looking at some tournaments in Austin and San Antonio to get to practice for nationals next year.”

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