Life’s a Beach

The beach volleyball national champion finds success in the sand.

Hailey Hamlett, above, and partner Lina Khmil went undefeated in eight matches in November to win the AVCA Collegiate Beach National Pairs Championships. Courtesy of TCU Athletics | Ellman Photography

Life’s a Beach

The beach volleyball national champion finds success in the sand.

Hailey Hamlett stepped into the college beach volleyball spotlight in November when she and partner Lina Khmil went undefeated in eight matches at the AVCA Collegiate Beach National Pairs Championships to become the first TCU duo to win the national title.

Hamlett, a 5-foot-11 junior from Bulverde, Texas, just north of San Antonio, said the victory was a surprise as she and Khmil were playing as a team for only the second time in tournament play. They continued the success during the spring season for coach Hector Gutierrez and the nationally ranked Frogs.

How does a player transition to beach volleyball from indoor volleyball? 

It’s just up to your tastes, basically. Texas is probably a hard place to start. I feel like in California and Florida, it’s probably more normal. But with Texas, you have to seek it out because there’s not really any beaches around. But it’s different. When you’re younger, you can just play for a club, you can pick your own schedule and pick your own partner. You play whenever you want. But with indoor, you have a coach and you have a club, and they tell you who plays, when to play, your schedule and everything. So if you want a more relaxed sport, you just go play beach. It’s way more chill.  

Why did you make the transition? 

I played indoor, and I stunk. So I was like, “Well, you know what? I’ll play beach and touch every ball whenever I want.” 

Aren’t you being hard on yourself? 

I didn’t grow until my freshman year of high school. When I first started indoor, they put me on the top team, but I had never played. My mom was like, “Can we put her on a lower team?” And they were like, “No.” Then I just rode the bench. Yeah, I didn’t like it. 

Where in Central Texas did you find a beach? 

Hailey Hamlett said that she developed her beach volleyball skills at a volleyball-friendly bar in San Antonio where college coaches flock to find talent.

There’s a bar called Sideliners Grill in San Antonio. It has 11 courts. It’s really big. It’s this food and bar place. That’s how chill it is. Adult tournaments will be going on, too, and they’ll be drinking and then they’ll go play and then they’ll have beer and then play. We would do college clinics. College coaches would go there, and we’d play in tournaments and they’d watch. Usually they’ll tell your coaches when they’re interested, but Hector gave me a business card. That’s the only thing I’ve ever gotten from a coach. I think I still have it somewhere. I was like, “Oh my gosh.” He was my first college interest, too, so that was cool. 

In a beach match, there are only two of you playing, and you need to know your partner’s tendencies. How did you build that relationship with Lina for the national pairs tournament? 

I feel like when we got there, we were still learning each other. When the games got tough, that’s when we really had to cater to each other’s needs. Just being positive with each other really helps. She also came home with me for Thanksgiving, so that was fun, and we got some team bonding there. 

You played with a different partner, Maria Gonzalez, last season. How did you get paired with Lina? 

I don’t know because they didn’t even try us last year. I never even practiced with her, and we usually switch partners all the time. I think they just tried it one time, and we did really well, and they kept us. They switch around our partners a lot, but I’m hoping they keep us together this year. 

Probably the game that I thought we had a chance was after beating UCLA in the semis because we lost the first set so bad and then came back and beat them with the same score. It was like, ‘Whoa.’
Hailey Hamlett


Because you hadn’t played together much, were you surprised to win the championship?  

Yes. I wasn’t in that tournament last year. Lina was with another girl. I’d never even been to the tournament. It was really awesome. It was really fun. Just knowing that this tournament was, literally, the top pairs from every college was really scary, and I never go into a tournament or a game thinking I’m going to win. I feel like that just is not beneficial for me because I need to be on my game.

You and Lina went 8-0 at the tournament. At which point did you think you had a chance to win it?  

It was nice during pool play that we were beating teams really well. Probably the game that I thought we had a chance was after beating UCLA in the semis because we lost the first set so bad and then came back and beat them with the same score. It was like, “Whoa.” If we can be destroyed mentally and physically in the first set and then come back and win in the next one and then the third one, I was like, “We can do anything.” It was just really nice knowing that we won’t give up or get down. 

Do you think you two are one of the best pairs in the country? 

It’s hard to say that out loud, but I think we did really well together. You never know what will happen. I think that’s cool that people know who I am, at least now. Everybody knows Lina. She’s awesome. She’s a world champion. She is on the Ukrainian national team and has won some big achievements, which is really cool. 

The Frogs were one of the final four teams last season but this season will be without All-Americans Daniela Alvarez ’23 and Tania Moreno and your partner last season. Do you still expect to be one of the top college teams? 

They’re coming back next year, but they took a year off to try to qualify for the Olympics. Good for them. So sad that they left, but I feel like we always expect to go all the way.  If you look at the past winners of NCAAs, it’s never the team that you expect to win. Ever. I feel like people are probably going to think we’re the underdogs this year, and that’s when we’re going to win — when they least expect it. We’re still going to be good, and I expect to go to the championship. 

Hailey Hamlett said she expects TCU to be one of the best college beach volleyball teams in 2024 even though the Frogs are playing without some top players from 2023. Courtesy of TCU Athletics | Ellman Photography