The senior setter reached the 1,000 career assist milestone this fall for the Aces, and led Lower Merion to the championship finals of the Central League volleyball tournament. Last fall, she received All-Main Line girls’ volleyball second team honors. An all-around athlete, Beqiraj runs track for Lower Merion in the winter and the spring. At Lower Merion, she also participates in coding clubs such as CodeLM and Girls Who Code. Beqiraj is a member of the National Honor Society, through which she serves as a tutor for other Lower Merion students.
Q: You got your 1,000th career assist in the third set of the Central League Tournament semifinals against Ridley. Can you describe how the play developed? What was your first reaction upon reaching this milestone, and what did reaching this milestone mean to you?
A: Since freshman year, the 1,000 club had always been a legend to me. Throughout the years, I never really thought about statistics while playing, as my main goal was doing all I could as a setter to support my team. In the Central League Tournament semifinals against Ridley, after dominating the first two sets, we walked into the third one, ready to take the win. I remember racing towards a pass right above the 10-foot line, and setting the ball to my outside hitter, Abiah Lane, who effortlessly slammed the ball down. I noticed my coaches, Lauren and Dan Perri, got up with a microphone in hand. They announced that I had reached my 1,000th assist, and suddenly I was crowded by my teammates, as loud cheers echoed in the gym. Unable to control my tears, I started crying. I was flooded by a rush of emotions; shock, joy, happiness, and immeasurable love for my team. Without my teammates and coaches, I would have never been able to achieve this milestone. I’m able to set the hitters by getting amazing bumps from the passers. And I’m able to get the assist from the fantastic hitters getting the kill. Of course, none of this would have happened without the expertise of my coaches. Both Coach Lauren and Coach Dan have mentored and taught me so much over the past five years, and I am truly grateful for all they have done. I will always remember that special day when I achieved this milestone, and I will always take pride in being a part of the Lower Merion Volleyball Team.
Q: What do you think is the strongest part of your game?
A: I believe the strongest part of my game is my competitive spirit and attitude. In volleyball, the match isn’t over until the last whistle is blown. This never-give up attitude has pushed me in workouts, practices, and games. It’s taught me to keep fighting up until the last point. Another skill that has helped me tremendously as a setter is my ability to bait the block. While the ball is mid-air, I can tell from the corner of my eye where the block starts the move. If they move towards the outside, I’ll set the right side, or vice versa. Since the opponent’s block and defense will be late due to abrupt change in direction, it makes the hitter’s job slightly easier.
Q: What part of your game are you currently working on the most?
A: One part of my game that I am working on is my setting scheme and when to set which hitters. For example, if there is what we call a “hot hitter” (a hitter on a great roll), it would be a good idea to keep them in play.
Q: As the senior setter, how did you view your leadership role on and off the court, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and related safety protocols?
A: This year due to the pandemic, everything drastically changed. We started off with only being able to practice twice a week in the summer, and with no information on whether we would have a season. The idea that my senior season, something I had looked forward to since freshman year, might be cancelled terrified me. However, I knew that we had to stay positive and strictly enforce safety protocols if we were to have any sort of games. We wore masks at all times, and used hand-sanitizer as often as we could. We made sure our bags were six feet apart, and during drills we did our best to remain socially distant. As a senior captain, I made sure to constantly remind players of these rules and why we need to follow them. These regulations were not just so that we could have a season, it was also about keeping ourselves and our families safe and healthy.
Q: Tell us a little about your volleyball training since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. What have you found to be the biggest challenge to your training during the pandemic, and how did you handle that?
A: The first challenge was adapting to playing in masks. It was difficult breathing in them while playing, however everyone got used to them fairly quickly. Another challenge we faced was the shortened practice hours. In order to get as much playing in as we could, we would set up nets as fast as possible and stay focused. A mental challenge we faced was the constant sense of uncertainty. There was always a chance that at any time our season could be shut down, and many players felt this unease. In order to break through this fear, I did my best to focus on the present and enjoy every single moment with my team. On top of all this, I also had a personal issue I was going through. I developed pleural effusions, where a lot of fluid accumulated between my lungs and my chest wall leaving me hospitalized for 10 days. My teammates and coaches supported me so much during this scary time, constantly sending kind messages, and a gift basket containing all of my favorite things. I am really thankful to be part of such an amazing family! Once I finally started feeling better, all I could think about was getting back to my team and training for our season. I’m happy to report I’m feeling a lot better, and I’m glad that I was able to play with my team.
Q: Have you always been a setter? What sparked your original interest in volleyball?
A: I have been a setter since seventh grade, and it has truly been my pride and joy for the past 6 years. I love the thrill of play-making and surprising the opponents with well-executed attacks from different places on the court. My interest in volleyball sparked from my family, as whenever we would go to picnic with friends and family, we’d play volleyball. Finding myself falling head over heels in love with the sport, I began playing on the school team in middle school.
Q: Who have been your biggest volleyball mentors, and what was the most important thing you learned from each one?
A: My biggest volleyball mentors would have to be my Lower Merion coaches, Lauren and Dan Perri. I have learned everything I know from them. I began playing for their Liberty Belles Aces club team in 8th grade, and I remember feeling as though a whole new world had opened up for me. They taught me everything from the basics, to the intricacies of plays and strategies. My setting has drastically improved over the years because of their helpful tips, advice and critiques. They have believed in me since day one, and that’s something I am truly grateful for. They always put a smile on my face by cracking jokes, or telling stories. There have been times where I haven’t been able to get up off the floor from laughing so hard, and those memories I will forever cherish. I am extremely appreciative for everything Lauren and Dan have done for me over the past five years, and I know I will carry the lessons they taught me in the future.
Q: Tell us a little about your pre-game preparation on the day of a game.
A: My typical game day begins with getting ready while listening to music. In between classes I look at our previous game footage, pin-pointing what worked well in past games, and what might need to change. After that I’ll usually discuss the opponent with my teammates, and at times watch some of their game footage to potentially find any weaknesses. I do my best throughout the day to stay hydrated, as well as eating right. Before the game, while the other team is warming-up, my team and I will go outside the gym to do our meditation minute. We all close our eyes and calm our breathing, while imagining what we want to accomplish during that game.
Q: What is your favorite course at Lower Merion? What do you think you’d like to major in at college? Is there a career path that particularly appeals to you?
A: Two of my favorite courses at Lower Merion would be Pre-Calculus Honors as well as Anatomy and Physiology Honors. I plan on majoring in biology or chemistry in college as I want to pursue medicine in the future. A career path that particularly appeals to me is pediatrics. I love learning about the field of medicine and want to help young kids.
Fun facts – Sara Beqiraj
Favorite book: Chain of Gold.
Favorite author: Cassandra Clare.
Favorite TV show: Doctor Who.
Favorite place to visit: Hawaii.
(To be selected as Main Line Girls Athlete of the Week, a student-athlete must first be nominated by her coach.)