The beach was a natural playground for Taylor Wilson, a Mesa resident who grew up just two blocks from the shore.
It’s now become the sandy pathway to a top-notch education.
Wilson, who will be a senior at San Marcos High School this fall, has been recruited to play beach volleyball at Stanford. Cardinal coach Andrew Fuller announced her acceptance to the university this week.
“It’s always been my dream school,” said Wilson, the daughter of Brian and Kim Wilson. “I’ve been super-motivated academically and it’s been my goal to go there, no matter what.
“I’m just so lucky to have the opportunity to play beach volleyball there because I never really thought it was possible.”
Wilson, after all, began playing the sport seriously only 18 months ago.
“I went to a couple of Jon Lee’s beach camps with my brother (Jack) when I was way younger,” she said. “My dad used to play with a bunch of friends when I was super-young, so I was kind of around it a little.
“But I really had played mostly just indoor volleyball.”
San Marcos teammate Ellie Gamberdella introduced her to her other team — the Malibu-based Valley Girls Beach Volleyball Club — midway through Wilson’s sophomore year. Gamberdella, who had to sit out last year with a knee injury, also blazed the trail to Stanford and will be a freshman with the Cardinal this season.
“She really helped me figure out a way through this process,” Wilson said. “She hasn’t started playing yet but she’s doing well and practicing consistently.
“It was a real bummer that she didn’t get to finish her last year of high school but I know she’s going to kick butt at Stanford.”
Wilson’s own interest in the school began as a youngster while attending Cardinal football games.
“I went to my first game — Stanford versus Cal — when I was 6 months old,” she said. “My parents and grandparents (Sacramento’s Bill and Sue Wilson) have been fans for my whole lifetime.
“It’s kind of crazy to think back to then and see where I am now.”
Wilson got hooked on beach volleyball once she joined the Valley Girls. It prompted her to train in earnest with local coach Jordon Dyer.
The game fits her strengths as an honors student. She’s most interested in math and science, with thoughts of majoring in management science and engineering. She’s also a member of San Marcos’ Entrepreneurship Academy.
“The indoor game is fast and powerful — you kind of hit the ball as hard as you can — but beach is more a thinking game,” she explained. “It’s not about power. It’s about knowing where you and your opponents are on the court, and the angles you need to take.”
Wilson entered the radar of college recruiters during last summer’s Beach Volleyball National Events College Showcase. She and McKenna Thomas, a Pepperdine commit from Orange County, won the 16-and-under division.
“McKenna also plays for Valley Girls,” she said. “We had really good, positive energy in that tournament.”
Six months later, Wilson won a gold medal at the Arizona Deep Freeze National Qualifier, capturing the 18-and-under division with Florida State commit Makenna Wolfe of Arroyo Grande. The National Championships would have been held this month in Huntsville, Ala. had the COVID-19 pandemic not frozen all competition.
“That was definitely a bummer,” she said. “I felt we had the chance to do well this summer. This was the first year I was doing only club beach, and not club indoor, and I felt we were really set up to have a good season.”
Wilson has also played with Portia Sherman, who will be a junior at Dos Pueblos High this fall. They finished as high as third in the 16-and-unders at a USA National Beach Tournament in Hermosa Beach in February of 2019.
“I’ve been able to play with a lot of different partners,” Wilson said. “That kind of flexibility is one of the reasons why I love beach volleyball so much.
“It’s been awesome to play with girls who are super-tall and then at other times with someone more like me — a defender. Different people bring out different strengths in yourself.”
Wilson, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter, won first-team All-Channel League honors last fall for San Marcos’ co-championship indoor volleyball team. She’s hopeful that the coronavirus won’t cancel the upcoming fall season.
“I haven’t been hearing a lot although I did see (co-head coach) Tina Brown last week, and she said we’d probably have a shorter season,” she said. “They’re saying that the CIF board will decide something by July 20.
“Honestly, I’m not expecting any season at all. I’d be really thankful and lucky to even get a few games.”
The more the merrier as far as Stanford coach Andrew Fuller is concerned.
“He wants us to really enjoy the rest of high school, and to stay involved,” Wilson said. “I’m just happy to have someone there who cares about me and the girls on the team that way.
“He suggests we keep doing as many activities as we can.”
A few more days at the beach, however, would suit her most of all.