Croatan senior Lillie Seymour recently accepted a beach volleyball scholarship to Division I Arizona State after playing a pivotal role for the school club team the last four years. Others in the photo are, left to right, seated, father David Seymour, sister Emma and mother Jennifer; standing, Croatan Principal Kay Zimarino, beach volleyball club coach Garrett Mickle and Athletic Director Dave Boal. (Contributed photo)

OCEAN — Croatan spiker Lillie Seymour is going across country to keep playing the sport she loves at the highest level.

The senior accepted a scholarship to Division I Arizona State for beach volleyball after playing a pivotal role in the relatively young school club at Croatan. She was the team’s No. 1 seed beginning as a freshman and played all four years for the program.

“I loved the beach program at Croatan,” Seymour said. “Coach (Garrett) Mickle is a great coach. All of the girls bonded. It was a great community to be a part of.”

There are only 65 Division I beach volleyball programs in the country, the majority of which are on the West Coast. Only one – UNC Wilmington – is located in this state. The sport itself has been recognized by the NCAA since the late 1980s, but scholarships are still somewhat new.

“Arizona State is one of the early schools that started offering scholarships,” Mickle said. “That was one of the draws when I brought the idea of a club team at Croatan to the administration and the athletic director at the time, David Perry. They were really supportive of the program getting on its feet.”

The program at Croatan started in 2014, and Seymour played an instrumental role in its development when she came in as a freshman in 2017.

“She came in as a freshman with a lot of knowledge and skill and earned the No. 1 spot on the team,” Mickle said. “She also went to states her freshman year.”

Seymour and No. 1 pair partner Jackie Gartner advanced to the state competition this season. The rest of the team also made the trip after the Cougars won their division, which included larger schools like New Bern, West Carteret, Swansboro, D.H. Conley and J.H. Rose.

“We were happy to have a season at all after COVID-19,” Mickle noted, “so for it to culminate in everyone going to states was pretty special.”

When it came time to choose a school, distance wasn’t a factor for the well-traveled Seymour. Arizona State is more than 2,300 miles from Croatan.

“I was in the recruiting process for a while, talking to a few different schools,” Seymour said, “but I just really loved the location and the people at Arizona State. Before I accepted my offer, I took a trip out there and loved it. They’re a pretty well-developed program. I’m used to that kind of heat, too, growing up in Texas.”

Seymour will play for a program that includes less than 20 girls, all competing for a top-10 spot to play for one of the five two-girl teams on match day. She is used to playing competitive beach volleyball with a league in Raleigh, and she played indoor volleyball for both a club team and the Cougars up until her senior year, but she holds a special place in her heart for the Croatan beach club.

“It’s not super competitive, it’s more for fun, but I really enjoyed my time. I played club indoor volleyball up until my senior year and then switched to only doing beach. It’s the one I love the most.”

Mickle will also fondly remember Seymour for the help she gave in sharpening the program. Mickle was a volleyball parent when he and his daughter, Alyssa, a 2016 Croatan grad, started the program in 2014. Skilled players with experience like Seymour are what he needed to give the program upward projection.

“She really pushed me as a coach in a really positive way,” Mickle said. “She’d do things I’d never seen before, and she would explain to me where she learned it and we’d incorporate those ideas. She brought in a different level of play and kind of upped the bar for everyone on the team, even for me. Her mark on this program will go on long after she has left it.”

Seymour, who plans to major in biology, will join a Sun Devil program that finished 10-12 in head coach Brad Keenan’s fifth season in 2021. The team went 4-7 in the Pac-12, beating the No. 11-ranked Cal Bears during the regular season. The team won five of its last seven duals before the playoffs.

The school’s student population of nearly 75,000 will be a different environment from a small school like Croatan for Seymour, but her high school coach has all the confidence she’ll find success.

“She’s a pretty driven player, so I think she’ll do just fine,” Mickle said. “To get the opportunity to play at that level, she’s going to expand to fit her environment and reach a whole new level as an individual player, I have no doubt.”

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