Meet three local women coaching the next generation of volleyball champs
These women dominate the development of youth volleyball in the South Bay. With each day on the sand or in the gym, they’re nurturing family bonds and a promising future for their players.
- Written byMadison Reynolds
- Photographed byJeff Berting
Despite the constant change of popular trends and health kicks, three things remain definite in the South Bay: Sunday brunch, surfing and all things volleyball. With Manhattan Beach as the “Wimbledon of beach volleyball,” there is no doubt that the sport has heavily influenced the development of South Bay culture.
In particular, volleyball superstar Patty Dodd and seasoned local club owners Mary Boice and Melissa Plass-Boice have dedicated their lives to growing the sport of volleyball in the area for many years. Volleyball plays a defining role in the lives of each of these women, compelling them to share their experiences with the local youth.
Mary, the owner and founder of Southern California Volleyball Club (SCVC), grew up in Hermosa Beach playing the sport recreationally for years before starting her own club in 1991. “My motivation was family,” she says.
Mary initially started SCVC based on her son Matt’s overwhelming interest in the sport. At the time there were only a handful of clubs in California, and she wanted to provide an opportunity for her family and friends to get involved in a social sport like volleyball.
With the help of her brother-in-law, Bill Griebenow, she soon comprised a team roster filled with her eighth-grade son and nephews. “In our first year they went to the Junior Olympics at Kansas City, and they got the bronze medal.
From then on they were all completely hooked, and we never looked back,” she reflects.
Years later Mary grew the club even further by adding a girls’ program with the help of Bill Ferguson, current head coach of the women’s volleyball team at Wake Forest University. The pair merged their clubs—SCVC and the Los Angeles Athletic Club—in 2001 to create an “all-star” group in the South Bay.
During that same year, a new addition to the SCVC coaching staff emerged when Mary’s son, Matt, became engaged to Melissa—a former setter at Pepperdine University. “I was telling her she needed to come coach for us because I couldn’t have her coaching for a competitor,” Mary laughs.
Although Melissa and Matt moved to Florida and Orange County in the early 2000s for work obligations, Melissa continued to assist Mary with the behind-the-scenes tasks of running SCVC. “I was physically not here anymore, so coaching was not an option. But she needed help on the computer … so I started doing some of the stuff on the administrative side, and then it just started growing from there,” Melissa recalls.
When they returned to L.A., Melissa became a full-time director for the club. She works closely with the coaching staff, whom she describes as “fun, intense and determined.”
She explains, “We work with what that kid has to offer, rather than molding them into something they’re not. I think that’s really the biggest difference that we have. We don’t try to fit you guys into a box.”
This mutual respect between the players and coaches at SCVC speaks for itself, as many of the club’s coaches are alumni who strive to give the younger generation of athletes the same rich experience that they received. Mary notes that “even college players call when they’re on break, because they want to get back in the gym with us.”
In addition to providing meaningful instruction and physical training, the SCVC staff also assists players in achieving their goals to compete collegiately. Melissa, who works extensively to help players fulfill their dreams of playing at the “next level,” notes that recruiting is “really about aligning the personal goals of the player with his or her volleyball goals, and then trying to find a fit where they both merge. In order to help them, we have to first understand the player, second the family, and then see where they’re at volleyball-wise and just help them through that process.”
Mary notes that, with the help of SCVC’s distinguished coaching staff, they have “direct lines to college coaches. We can pick up the phone and make that call” for players looking to pursue a higher level of competition.
The “SCVC Family,” as both Mary and Melissa describe it, seeks to provide a wholesome experience for the players and their families. “We hold a high standard,” Mary says, “and give 150% effort to have everybody’s goals fulfilled. Your goals are our goals.”
In the last two years another prominent club has emerged in the South Bay—Manhattan Beach Sand—with a philosophy similar to that of SCVC’s. Founded by indoor and beach volleyball legend Patty Dodd, MB Sand emphasizes the importance of both the mental and physical aspects of the sport.
After playing on the indoor team at UCLA and traveling around the world playing professionally on the sand, Patty found a way to pursue her passion for volleyball in a less physically demanding way. “My body allowed me to play in my 20s and 30s, and then coaching came late 40s and 50s.”
She loves sharing her knowledge of and love for the game with a younger generation. She claims that she was “hooked” after her first coaching experience at UCLA where she helped the women’s team win a NCAA Championship in 1984, jumpstarting her successful career.
Although some moments stand out for Patty in her coaching career, such as leading the USA National Beach U26 team to a gold medal at the 2014 World University Games in Portugal, the most rewarding part of her job is “the relationships that I make with the players and their families. I get to reach way more people by coaching than playing and make a difference in kids’ lives.”
This attitude sparked Patty’s interest to develop programs that would allow her to share her passion with the local youth. Starting with Dodd Volleyball School in 2013, she began offering lessons and clinics to boys and girls ages 7 to 14, teaching both indoor and beach volleyball fundamentals for one hour a week. Moving forward a few years, once both of her daughters entered college and “the timing was right,” Patty followed her dream of starting her own beach volleyball club—MB Sand—which she prefers to indoors.
“There is no bench in beach,” she laughs as she explains one of the many benefits of having kids grow up playing a sport where they can be fully engaged during every moment of the game, rather than sitting on the sidelines. “There’s a lot of life lessons that are learned through sports, and beach volleyball makes for a mentally tougher, more resilient player because there are no substitutions. They have to figure it out, they have to problem-solve, they have to tolerate each other. It’s really cool in that way.”
Located south of the Manhattan Beach Pier, MB Sand wel- comes players of all skill levels—beginner, intermediate and advanced—for athletes ages 10 to 17. The UCLA alumna adds that her goal, besides teaching fundamentals, is to get them to fall in love with volleyball, which she accomplishes through positive yet firm instruction.
“There is no punishment at MB Sand. I don’t believe in that. No running around like crazy because you made a mistake,” Patty says. “We welcome mistakes because every mistake is an opportunity to learn. If they’re not doing it correctly, then I look to myself because I’m not teaching it correctly … and then we revisit until we get it right.”
With more than 325 medals already won in the first two years since MB Sand’s start in 2015, Patty looks to further expand her program and continue to encourage the young athletes to participate in tournaments to showcase their talents. She’s also begun to notice a pattern within her two programs. “It’s pretty neat to see that some of my kids are making the transition” from DVS to MB Sand, she shares. She hopes that the two will “grow together” in the future, with DVS as a feeder to the competitive beach club.
In addition to developing two successful programs in the South Bay, Patty also enjoys sharing her love for volleyball with her family. She met her husband, Mike, at the USVBA Open Nationals in New York in 1985 and again in Italy where they both, coincidentally, played professionally for a while. “The stars aligned for us, and then a year later we were married,” she reflects.
Thirty-one years later, the couple now has two daughters, Dalas (24) and Dominique (20), who both share their parents’ passion for the game. “It’s just fun to have them enjoy a sport that I love so much and one that they asked to play,” Patty says about her daughters’ gradual involvement with volleyball.
Once Dalas started attending school at American Martyrs in Manhattan Beach, Patty began volunteering as an assistant coach for the school’s volleyball team alongside Rocky Wade, former setter at University of Hawaii. Patty continued to teach classes and coach at AMS for 12 years, where she was eventually able to work with both of her girls. She describes her time there as “awesome because I’ve known a lot of their friends since kindergarten, and it felt more like a family. It was an amazing experience to take them from fifth to eighth grade.”
The Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame inductee also helped her daughters with their playing careers past the elementary school level, as she became a member of the coaching staff on a few of their club teams at Mizuno Long Beach Volleyball Club for four years, as well as for the sand volleyball team at Saint Mary’s College of California where Dalas played and graduated from.
Their entire family is also extremely active in the organization and promotion of both Dodd Volleyball School and MB Sand. Dalas helps coach DVS on Thursday afternoons when she finishes work. “It’s lovely to have her there,” Patty says with appreciation.
Her husband, Mike, also assists with setting up and taking down the nets for MB Sand’s weekly practices. She adds, “He’s my best ambassador. He wears MB Sand everywhere, and he’s very proud of its accomplishments.”
Patty remains extremely thankful for all of the familial support she’s received and is grateful for the role that volleyball has played in all of their lives. “That’s how I met my husband, that’s how my kids ended up going to college and that’s how I’m able to provide for my family now. I absolutely love coaching.”
Both Patty and the Boice family find that volleyball is more than just a simple match, and they have spent most of their lives trying to instill this philosophy into all those who participate in it. “I think living in the South Bay, you’re a victim of your environment,” Patty muses. “You either surf or you play beach volleyball. And I think volleyball is a life skill that you’re going to have whether you want to compete or whether you want to take it as a recreational sport.
It’s something that you can do during your 30s and 40s and exercise and have a good time.”
Similarly, Melissa describes that one of the best parts of the whole process is “walking into the gym and seeing the players’ faces. From the little 10-year-olds who are so ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ and don’t know what’s going on, and then walking in and seeing the seniors that are like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to go to college.’ To have those two things and everything in between is my favorite part.”
By sharing their knowledge of and passion for the game, each of these three South Bay women have made generous contributions to the growth of the minds, bodies and spirits of hundreds of athletes and families in this community, enriching the culture around us in more ways than one.
It’s the fuel of passion and the action in possibility. It’s the will to take the tough roads and voice the hard truths. It’s the basis of our best selves and the backbone of our dreams. Inspiration defines who we are … and it’s rarely sparked alone.
Reflecting on the question “Who inspires you?” seven South Bay women speak about other women who influenced their perspectives or gave meaning to their achievements. The assurance they find in their respective choices—the role models they see in friends, family or a historical figure—also show that inspirational women often help create even more.