Local volleyball club sponsoring Olympic dream
Feb 01, 2019 01:31PM
By Catherine Garrett
Former 5A MVP Melissa Fuchs Powell is now a professional beach volleyball player and has her sights set on the 2028 Olympics. (Photo courtesy Melissa Fuchs Powell)
By Catherine Garrett | [email protected]
Native Utahn Melissa Fuchs Powell’s journey from prep All-American to collegiate indoor and beach volleyball player is simply continuing. As a professional beach volleyball player, the 24-year-old now has her sights set on the
2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. And despite just playing with one partner in the sport, it will take a village to get her there. Local volleyball Club GSL is helping to sponsor Powell in her pursuit.
“I’m a dreamer, I chase my dreams and I have received some help to do that and I sense that in Melissa,” Club GSL owner Warren Van Schalkwyk said. “She is a great competitor and, like many top-tier athletes, she has all the skill sets in a great volleyball player. But, the thing you immediately notice about Melissa is her competitiveness and drive. She goes after it to make things happen and she doesn’t sit back and hope for it to. I’m absolutely willing to support that drive.”
Powell is the daughter of former Brazilian professional volleyball players Ray and Val Fuchs and has been living and breathing volleyball her whole life. Even though she felt she was much better at basketball growing up, she knew she had more support in volleyball. “It’s like a culture for us – in Brazil it’s soccer or volleyball,” Powell said. “Watching my siblings play really helped me develop an understanding for the game until I gained my own love for it. It’s not who I am, but it’s a reflection of who I am.”
The 2012 5A MVP who led Pleasant Grove High School to the state title followed her brother Phillip, who played at BYU, and her sister Becca, who played at Utah and Weber State, with her own talents into the collegiate ranks. She began at Central Michigan for one year before playing at Houston Baptist to be closer to where her family had relocated. It was there that she started playing beach volleyball as well as indoor and she played both over the next three seasons.
“Ever since I was young, everyone said my style was more of a beach volleyball player,” Powell said. “As I tried it, I realized that I really, really liked playing beach. I started getting pretty good at it and the more I played, the more I knew that I could pursue it professionally if I wanted to.”
Following her four years of indoor eligibility – and now married to BYU football player Riggs Powell who she met in Houston – she returned to play her final season of beach volleyball in the spring of 2018 at the University of Utah.
In her first professional beach volleyball tournament in Austin, Texas in May 2018, she and partner Jessica Wooten finished 45th. She has since played with two other partners – Victoria Dennis and Allison Spurrier – and has risen in the rankings to her current standing – 133rd – with a goal to break into the top 30.
This past fall, Powell tried out for the P1440 tour, founded by three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, and received a spot which provided her free training throughout the four-month pro-league series. “That has really helped jumpstart my career where I could start getting recognized more around the beach volleyball community,” Powell said. “It’s important to get more exposure as I try to move up.”
Van Schalkwyk said he simply noticed Powell’s Instagram page recently and realized her name seemed familiar as she had been one of the top players in the state. As he saw her goal of being an Olympian, he decided to reach out to her and see how he could help.
“Our mission at Club GSL is to be a support for every individual and help them achieve their personal goals in volleyball,” he said. “I knew what Melissa was going after fit within that mission statement.”
Powell trains with Van Schalkwyk and Mike Daniel who help find high level athletes to play with her. “One of the things I noticed with Melissa’s videos is that she’s often alone,” Van Schalkwyk said. “I asked her about that and she said it is difficult to find people to practice with and that is where we are trying to help in addition to sponsoring some of her gear and providing her some money monthly for tournaments.”
Van Schalkwyk credited Powell for her drive to go after success in a sport that favors those who can play on the beach year-round. “It’s very brave for a girl from Utah – where we only have two and a half months of beach weather – to even have the courage to break into this sport,” said Van Schalkwyk.
The 5’11” player realizes the odds she’s up against and isn’t backing down. “I’ve always been doubted,” she said. “Volleyball has taught me to not give up when things get hard so I plan to keep training and keep pushing and keep moving towards my goals. It’s always worth it to go after what you dream of and I want to help inspire others to know that too.”
Powell said she is grateful for the support she receives and also noted her husband’s “100 percent backing” in helping her follow her dreams. The reality for a professional beach volleyball player is that money is needed for travel, tournaments, gym memberships, gear and apparel and she is continually seeking all the help she can get.
“I’m having a ton of fun,” Powell said. “We get to go to beaches all around the world and I can continue to play volleyball. Playing beach is very easy on your joints so you can play it for longer.”
Powell is scheduled to compete in India, Brazil and Thailand over the new few months, the next leg on her Olympic journey.