Sitting in the sand, watching her dad play on 16th St. in Hermosa Beach, Calif. throughout her childhood sparked Ava Kirunchyk’s passion for beach volleyball. This passion propelled her to extraordinary heights: from committing to USC for beach volleyball her freshman year of high school to becoming an ISF World Champion at age 16.

However, Kirunchyk’s success was not new to her family. Her prosperity was a birthright, following in her father’s footsteps. Mark Kirunchyk played professional volleyball in the AVP league and went on to coach Ava’s beach volleyball team in Hermosa Beach.

“I taught [Ava] how to start playing volleyball when she was about six years old and always wanted her to play from the time she was born,” Mark said. “My favorite memory of her playing volleyball as a child was taking her to an indoor tournament in Arizona and watching her 12-and-under team win their first game. They were so excited to finally win as a team.”

When COVID-19 turned the high school sports scene into a shell of what it once was, Ava fell from the highest of highs that comes with winning a world championship to the lows of not being able to play at all. Living in Hermosa Beach, she faced the toughest of restrictions, more so than any other states she was used to playing against. As beaches were closed to the public in California for the first few months of the pandemic, Ava was unable to practice or compete against other players until December of 2020.

“All these girls on the East Coast, they’re going to be very, very prepared as California girls are almost not conditioned as well, just because we haven’t really been playing,” Ava said. “These next three months, they’re going to be the most important because it’s before college and we want to be in the best shape possible to perform.”

With all the momentum bred by her past success, Ava’s senior year of volleyball was expected to be remarkable. But without a senior season, Ava didn’t even have the chance to be great.

“I was extremely bummed that Ava did not have a volleyball season when COVID hit,” Mark said. “She had played all three years on varsity for her indoor high school team, and the previous year they won the CIF Southern Section Division I title. Watching her not be able to have her final year is heartbreaking because you only get one high school experience.”

In spite of the unexpected and unwanted outcome of her senior year, Ava learned lessons that will stay with her despite being forged by fire, and her first season at USC will be that much more memorable.

“It was stressful, but somewhat inspiring at the same time to just find ways to get around it because life’s not always going to be easy,” Ava said. “But both USC coaches are really talented, so I’m really excited for that. I’m also looking forward to meeting the girls and getting into that atmosphere and competing together and supporting each other.”

As Ava continues her beach volleyball career at the next level, the roles will finally be reversed: her dad will now be the one sitting in the sand marveling at her talent.