For most athletes, it is a dream to do well at the high school level to one day play collegiately or even professional.
It isn’t a reality for most, unfortunately, but it is a dream. That’s why there are Div. 2 and Div. 3 collegiate sports and even semi-professional leagues — they are for people that can’t leave their sports life behind.
That doesn’t apply to San Marcos High’s senior libero Grace Matthews.
In fact, Matthews made her decision to not pursue a collegiate career after the end of summer going into her junior year.
“I remember going down the recruiting path for indoor volleyball during my sophomore year… and the beach volleyball path during summer before my junior year… But then I kind of just decided like volleyball at that next level wasn’t really for me,” Matthews said.
Matthews has been a key player for the Royals all season long. Her efforts as a libero constantly have her diving for every ball that gets tossed her way and she is a key cog in the passing offense.
More important than that, however, is Matthews’ high energy before and after points are either saved or scored, which makes her an irreplaceable force for San Marcos.
“One of the things I work on a lot is trying to keep my energy high so that there’s a constant energy out there (on the floor) and definitely other people bring it too but I push myself to not let that energy go down,” Matthews said.
Matthew’s high energy was no more apparent than at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions.
One day after losing to Dos Pueblos in three sets, San Marcos participated in the annual tournament of champions.
In game one, the Royals went up against San Diego Westview. In the first and second sets, San Marcos held comfortable leads but blew both to go down 2-0.
Instead of looking defeated, Matthews stood up before the third set began, went around to every teammate with a loud cheer and a wide smile to help keep the teams’ energy up.
San Marcos went on to win the match in five, then upset second-seeded San Clemente and defeated Corona del Mar in the semifinal to advance to the championship for the first time in nearly 15 years.
In the title match, San Marcos lost to Mira Costa in three sets, but without a doubt, San Marcos left the gym with a new sense of confidence and fire.
“(The match against San Diego Westview) was definitely a game-changer for us just because the whole season up until then we struggled a little bit with like getting ahead and then just finishing… I think if we lost that we would not have reached our highest level of knowing ‘oh we can beat these teams,’” Matthews said.
Volleyball has been an important part of Matthew’s life since she was a little girl.
She picked up the sport from her sister who was five years older than her.
“She got really into volleyball in seventh grade and I remember she would like take me into the backyard and just practice her hitting on me and she would just slam the ball into my arms until they were red… I just always looked up to her,” Matthews said.
Since then, Matthews developed her own passion for the game saying, “it feels like my home away from home.”
So then, with all the talent Matthews has on the court and the love for the game she has off of it, it wouldn’t be surprising to see her at the next level.
But Matthews believes there is more to life than volleyball.
“I love volleyball with all my heart, but I want to get more out of college than just having (volleyball) be a job,” Matthews said.
After graduating from San Marcos in the spring, Matthews hopes to take a gap year before attending university, an opportunity she knows she is lucky to have and very thankful for.
“Since I decided not to play in college that opportunity became a real possibility and I think taking a year off to become more mature so I go into college more prepared is great for me,” Matthews said.
After that, she wants to hone in on her academia, hoping to maybe study criminal justice and prison reform, something she is passionate about.
That doesn’t mean, however, Matthews decision came easy.
“Even now, I think there’s a little part of me that’s had so much fun this season and it feels sad it is ending. Like, I wish I could still play but ultimately at the end of the day, I’m happy with my decision,” Matthews said.
On senior night, Matthews got to play her old position when she first put on a uniform: outside hitter. Matthews went a perfect 8-for-8 on kill attempts and could not be happier.
“I thought I would be a bit sadder on senior night, but I think knowing we were going to CIF allowed me to just enjoy it and have fun… The whole time I had a smile on my face, I was so giddy to go back to that role and it was super fun to have that moment,” Matthews said.
Matthews and the San Marcos girls volleyball team will be taking part in the first round of the CIF SS Division 3 bracket against Quartz Hill at 6 p.m. tonight.
At best, Matthews has a few weeks of volleyball left in her career, at worst, it ends tonight in Lancaster, Calif., something she hopes is not the case.
“Thursday could be our last game. I hope it’s not and we’re all working hard to make sure it’s not but there is a slight chance that it could be and I do get emotional thinking about that,” Matthews said.
Without a doubt, Matthews hopes for the same storybook ending to her senior season like everyone: with a championship.
But, even more important than that, she just wants to have no regrets whenever her last time on a volleyball court comes.
“I want to win CIF definitely, but if that doesn’t happen I just hope that everyone leaves feeling like we gave it our all,” Matthews said.
“I am so incredibly grateful for this community and my teammates, they’re like my family and I just want us to do well on Thursday.”