There was a lot that Sami Mims and Helene Masone didn’t know last weekend.
For starters, they didn’t really know each other, at least in the sense they needed to. The two, despite both being Niceville High School Eagles, had never played volleyball on the same side of the net before.
From watching one another on junior varsity and varsity — Mims will be a senior, Masone a sophomore — Mims knew Masone was a deft passer, but there was no way Masone knew precisely where Mims liked her sets and vise versa.
There was much to figure out in a short amount of time.
And yet, in their first act as beach teammates, they were headed to a tournament in Orlando for what they thought was a national qualifier for championships in Milwaukee this weekend.
Which leads to the next element they were entirely unaware of: It was not a qualifier for Milwaukee, but rather an entryway into Junior Olympics, also held this weekend, in Hermosa Beach, Calif.
“We only thought it was a qualifier for nationals,” Mims said. “We were like ‘Oh, it’s in Milwaukee.’ We really didn’t want to go to Milwaukee.’ ”
Good thing, because they won’t be.
Somewhere along the lines in Orlando, they were informed that if they took first or second place, they would qualify for Junior Olympics, representing not just themselves and Niceville, but the United States.
After tearing through pool play undefeated, the two punched their tickets to Hermosa Beach, finishing second after a weather-shortened championship match reduced the final to just one game to 15 points — matches are normally best-of-three to 21.
“Junior Olympics is definitely bigger (than nationals),” said Masone, who is a member of the Sand Turtles Volleyball Club out of Crestview. “It’s the Junior Olympics, which means it’s the country.”
Predictably, they were thrilled.
One snag: finding a flight to California less than a week before departure is neither an easy task nor a cheap one.
On Tuesday night, Masone and Mims were practicing when Mims’ phone rang. It was her mother. Junior Olympics was either happening or it wasn’t.
“We were both prepared to hold in tears,” Mims said.
Earlier, the senior had attempted to explain how she and Masone have matching, goofy personalities. The picture of the two — jumping, arms flailing above their heads, legs this way and that, screaming as only teenage girls can, faces frozen somewhere between a smile and a yelp — after Mims’ mother informed her daughter that she had found a flight to Los Angeles International Airport, confirming that the two would be playing in Junior Olympics, is perhaps the only way to truly personify it.
“I was going crazy because, like, first of all, it’s, like, California,” Masone said. “And then it’s, like, Junior Olympics, and then it’s, like, beach volleyball, so that’s three great things right there. And then it’s with Sami, so that’s four great things.”
On Wednesday afternoon, in between morning workouts and an early evening practice, they perused a Nike store to pick up some red, white and blue gear, which preceded a trip to Wal-Mart where they purchased American-themed twizzlers.
“We take red, white and blue very seriously,” Mims wrote in a text. “Even in our candy choices.”
On Friday, they’ll hop on a plane out of Birmingham, stop for a layover in Atlanta, and then arrive in California, where they’ll be competing as Junior Olympians on Saturday and Sunday.
Neither knows what to expect. Mims doesn’t know how many teams are in the field, whether Americans will outnumber foreign teams, not even the format.
Not that it matters much to her.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “We can change our Twitter handles to Junior Olympians.”