An Improbable Rally

Boise State senior beach volleyball player Joey Benson pushes through adversity—and keeps a winning attitude

Boise State beach volleyball senior Joey Benson prepares to set in one of her recent tournaments.

Patrick Sweeney / Boise State

Boise State beach volleyball senior Joey Benson prepares to set in one of her recent tournaments.

Audrey Erps, reporter

 The weather was a bit chilly on a mid-October morning, but things were heating up on the Boise State beach volleyball courts. Joey Benson, a Boise State senior, takes a deep breath as she prepares herself for the next rally in one of their fall tournament matches.

As the other team goes for a spike, Joey lifts herself to bring her hands above the net to block. The ball contacts her hands but still falls back with Joey onto her court, scoring the other team a point. Unfazed by the momentary setback, Joey and her teammate eventually emerge victorious in the match, a nice microcosm of Benson’s beach volleyball career.

“I’ve pretty much enjoyed every part about my career, even the hard stuff,” Benson said.

And looking back, plenty of hard stuff has happened since she first stepped onto a volleyball court.

Benson, who grew up in Buckeye, Arizona, says she was about 12 years old when she started playing and quickly made the shift from the hard court to the sand.

“I had a coach who was a semi-pro beach player that kind of got me into beach volleyball when I was about thirteen, and I would just go out and play with him a lot.”

Benson also played indoor volleyball through her sophomore year at Verrado High School as a middle blocker. After she finished that indoor season, she put more focus into her preferred version of the game—beach volleyball—and that was when she realized she wanted to try to play in college.

Joey made it clear how much she enjoyed the sport by the way she and her team spent their summer vacation.

“We would spend all of our summer out there training and playing in the AAU National Championships, the AVP championships, and the AU Junior Olympics.”

After high school graduation, it was time for Joey to bump into her college career. She chose kinesiology as her major at the University of New Mexico because of her love for exercise and nutrition. But then she faced her first major hurdle in her beach volleyball career: the program folded.

Although she knew she only had one season left at New Mexico, Joey decided to stay and play because she wanted to play for UNM’s coach, who she credits with helping mold her into the player she is now. The next obstacle to overcome was searching for a new school with a great beach volleyball program.

The days Joey visited Boise State University for the first time were quite interesting.

Joey Benson (left) goes up for a hit at the net. (Audrey Erps / ILABeat)

“It was just pouring rain,” she said. “The weather was so bad and cold, and you wouldn’t think a girl from Arizona would want to end up in Boise State where the winters are colder than where I’m from.”

But there was a stronger pull to the program that outweighed anything less than desirable about the climate.

“I just really loved the atmosphere of the athletics department in general, and I loved where our coaches were heading with this program,” she said.

And she decided to join Boise State in the fall of 2019 and has been playing with them ever since. 

Things seemed to be looking up when yet another hard situation came Joey’s way due to the Pandemic.

At the end of February of her first season, as the teams were getting ready to head to a tournament for the weekend, their plans abruptly changed.

“We got a call that, ‘Hey, Covid factor’,” she said. “Your trip is canceled, and then we went into lockdown, and that was the end of my season.”

But by the fall of 2020, they were able to train some and resumed play the next spring.

With all these hard changes behind her, Benson is looking forward to her final opportunity to play for Boise State in this spring with her on-court partner Emiliar Guerra-Acuna. 

“I absolutely love Emilia,” Benson said. “We have so much fun. She’s really just a positive person and easy-going and easy to be around, easy to room with when we travel, and you know, easy to play with too. … We have a lot of trust in each other on the court.”

In reflecting on her journey, some advice Joey would give to young athletes is: “Immersing yourself into the environment … taking a breath every once in a while. … I was always pretty hard on myself growing up and being an athlete, but just kind of taking a breath and enjoying the moment, especially with youth athletes. It’s only a small portion of your life … being able to enjoy where you’re at in the moment.”

With her volleyball career potentially coming to a close, Benson still has so much ahead of her. And based on her experiences, she’ll be ready to dig her way out of any challenging situations: “I want to be ok with where I’m at regardless of what life throws.”