Hollis’ Norris wins U16 beach volleyball tourney

Madison Norris had her feet in the sand, head under the Florida sun and nothing but palm trees and the Atlantic Ocean surrounding her.

But Norris wasn’t on vacation. She was cementing herself among the elite junior beach volleyball players in the country.

Norris, a 14-year-old Hollis native and freshman at Hollis Brookline High School who contributed to the school’s Division I state championship team, competed in the 2015 Expert Volleyball Professional (EVP) U16 National Beach Volleyball Championship, and, alongside her partner – 16-year-old Maine native Alexis Rozsahegyi – won the one-day, seven-match tournament at Riviera Beach on Sept. 19.

It was a thrilling achievement for Norris. She overcame the heat, the fatigue of an exhausting day and the unfamiliar setting, all with a partner she had never played with before.

"It was surreal. It was overwhelming," Norris said. "Knowing we had just won, we were very proud and it was a long, tiring day."

It was the biggest achievement of Norris’ athletic career thus far, but was unsurprising to Matt Morrissette, the director of Spike University New England – a multiple-level, New Hampshire-based beach volleyball league Norris is part of that plays at Hampton Beach.

"She’s always been a very good player," Morrissette said. "She’s athletic and very skillful. Her skillsets have increased. The more she gets first and second places, the more you can tell she’s a really solid player."

Morrissette started Spike U in 2012 because there were no other local beach volleyball organizations. In three years the league has taken off. He said he has over 1,000 players, some of which are winning regional tournaments and qualifying at the national level.

Norris has been one of the top players in her division in her three years at Spike U. She consistently places in the top three at regional tournaments, and according to Morrissette’s point system on Spike U’s website is the second ranked U16 girls player in New England.

That’s quite a feat given there are about 500 players in her age group at Spike U alone.

"Maddie specifically has great hitting and great getting – hustle to the ball," Morrissette said.

Norris’ abilities haven’t taken long to develop. She began playing indoor volleyball in sixth grade. A year later she took up beach volleyball after local courts were developed in Brookline.

She became passionate about the sport, and joined Spike-U’s U16 division in search of more competition. Through her success at the Hampton Beach tournaments, her rise up the rankings and Morrissette’s partnership with EVP, she qualified for the national competition this season.

The only thing missing was a partner.

Fortunately for Norris, she found one in Rozsahegyi, who also earned a bid and needed a teammate. Morrissette matched the two and they jelled, making it through four matches of pool play before wins in the quarterfinal, semifinal and championship round.

"They played really well," Morrissette said. "You put two people together and you have no clue how they’re going to play. Name the sport and good luck trying to get them to do well."

One of the highlights for Norris was after the tournament when she got to meet some professional EVP players. She took photos with them and even received a player’s shirt.

"It was a lot of fun," she said.

Norris said the experience – and playing beach volleyball in general – helped prepare her for the varsity indoor season at HB. She said the smaller court and more difficult surface on sand challenges her, while the tournament win gave her the confidence she needed to compete with the state’s best indoor players this fall.

"Being a freshman on varsity, it’s kind of intimidating," Norris said. "It helped me prove to myself that I can be on that team, that I earned my spot on varsity."