Olivia Moore ventured over to her neighbor’s driveway, ready for volleyball lessons every day during quarantine.
In that Gardendale, Alabama, driveway, Florida volleyball outside hitter Merritt Beason trained Moore, now a seventh grader at Bragg Middle School, and other girls who wanted to learn more about volleyball.
“It was just something that I guess I was pretty good at, and Merritt was always so passionate about,” Moore said.
In high school, Beason volunteered her time coaching the Bragg Middle School volleyball team in an attempt to rejuvenate the sport in her hometown. The aspiring teacher used the driveway drills as a way to mentor young girls.
The lessons began during Beason’s junior year of high school. She decided to play for Gardendale High School again after training with her club team her sophomore year.
Volleyball, however, isn’t the biggest sport in Gardendale. Most girls grow up yearning to be cheerleaders.
“My one goal was to get little girls in my town to hear about volleyball,” she said. “I wanted little girls to know what volleyball was, and I wanted them to see me and to see that, ‘Oh hey, I can do this and I can go get a full ride.’”
She reached out to Bragg volleyball coach April Thomas prior to her junior year to help out with training the middle school team. Thomas immediately took to the idea; most sixth graders who try out never played volleyball outside of gym class.
So, Beason became an assistant volleyball coach at Bragg for her final two seasons of high school. She came in for summer practices to improve the team’s skills, either through running drills or working with the hitters.
The new assistant coach held the girls to a higher standard of play and encouraged them to achieve the goals they set.
“She really, really pushed them in what was expected,” Thomas said. “She would be even harder on them discipline-wise or skill-wise than even I would be.”
Thomas watched Beason’s leadership qualities shine even during her younger playing days. While she was a Bragg student, Beason taught her teammates vital skills, such as volleyball rotations.
“The volleyball coach that we had at the time was not very knowledgeable about volleyball,” Thomas said. “So Merritt, even as an eighth grader, was pretty much leading that team.”
While coaching the middle schoolers, Beason would tell the girls that her gift comes from God.
“Her faith is the forefront,” Thomas said. “She lets all these kids know that her gift comes from God, and she’s been granted this as her platform to do God’s work.”
As a Christian, Beason said God blessed her with more than she deserves, and her goal is to ensure his light is shining through her in all that she accomplishes.
“Ultimately, my goal is that glory isn't a reflection of me, and it's a reflection of him,” Beason said. “One of my main goals is to make sure that I'm using my platform and my skills and abilities that he's given me for him and for his kingdom.”
Working with the volleyball team pushes Beason one step closer to what she wants to do in the future. She has always loved working with children, and that love motivated her dream to become an elementary school teacher. She would even make her younger brother play school with her; she was the teacher, and he, the student.
Beason, however, credits her first grade teacher, Kathy Casaday, for inspiring her to pursue teaching. Over the summer of her elementary school days, Beason would help Casaday cut out things she needed laminated or sort the books in her classroom.
“I will never forget that,” Beason said. “That definitely was probably the kickstarter of me wanting to be an elementary school teacher.”
Those who have worked with Beason have seen the passion and dedication she brings to everything she does. When she came to UF, she learned how to play right-side hitter — an entirely new position.
Senior outside hitter Thayer Hall said Beason’s dedication and willingness to step up as a freshman gave her goosebumps.
“Just the energy, the light, her smile, it's something that brightens up the court,” Hall said. “I don’t think we would be us without her in that position, and we perform at our best when she is on the right side.”
Beason’s ability to learn and her talent in the sport helped get her to where she is now, head coach Mary Wise said.
“She's a terrific learner and why some young players in any sport can get on the court or field sooner has to do with their ability to learn the differences between high school and college sooner,” Wise said. “They eventually all get there, just some can learn it quicker, and that’s where Merritt is today.”
Although Beason may not currently be coaching the Bragg team, the girls she taught still reach out to her through social media to update her on their volleyball accomplishments.
“I truly loved it, and I got to know those girls a lot,” she said. “It's just super cool having that bond with those younger girls.”
As a seventh grader on the Bragg volleyball team, Moore believes Beason is the reason for her newfound love of volleyball.
She still remembers Beason’s advice from every practice.
Reset your heads. Get all of the past plays, bad sets and bad hits out of your heads. Focus on the serve that is about to come over.
With years of coaching the girls, Beason is proud to see how her one goal kickstarted volleyball in her community. She hopes to return to Gardendale and continue inspiring girls like Moore from her driveway.
Contact Kaitlyn Wadulack at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @kwadulack.