Bria Beale and Ashton Jessee have made the best of their time on and off the court for the UH-Hilo volleyball team, which will welcome both back for the 2021 season in the fall.
Beale, from Eastvale, Calif., has made an immediate impact. The 5-foot-11 outside hitter is a two-time, first-team All-PacWest selection and led the Vulcans in points and kills in 2019.
Off the court, she’s adventurous and anonymous. She recently went skydiving for the first time. Since last November, Beale has worked as a cashier at Short N Sweet bakery. During that time only one customer figured out who she is. Her identity is a mystery because she wears a mask.
She graduated from Rancho Cucamonga High, the same school as UHH point guard Darren Williams. But they never ran into each other despite being elite all-league athletes. It’s a maze to find people with an enrollment of 4,000 students, and Beale’s graduating class had 1,000 students.
“I do want to come back as a graduate student,” said Beale, who hopes to enter the mental health counseling field. “I like it here. I want to live here permanently and have a career here long term.
“I’ve gone on a lot of hikes. I plan to hike down to Waipio Valley. We’ve had a lot of adventures with my teammates.”
Beale is also a regular on the PacWest all-academic team. She’s one of those players who checks off all the boxes, great in the classroom and on the court, works hard, and pushes her teammates.
“She’s a gifted athlete, hard worker, driven, high expectations of herself and her team,” coach Chris Leonard said. “I’ve coached in club for a long time, and have had a handful to exceptional kids who excel on side sides of the equation. She’s a dynamic performer on and the off the court for sure.”
When Beale first arrived at UHH as a sophomore transfer from UC Irvine, her first roommate was Jessee. They built a fast bond, and if you ever see them laughing or smiling, they’re sharing an inside joke.
“She’s really funny,” Beale said. “We make a lot of references to memes and old vines, which is like an app. We’ll make inside jokes on the court or off the court.”
Jessee also works at Short N Sweet but never gets recognized even though she’s a 6-3 middle blocker. She works in the back as a dishwasher.
She also made an impact since coming from Alaska, where she played volleyball and softball. It doesn’t snow all the time, just like it doesn’t rain all the time in Hilo.
Jessee led the conference in blocks as a sophomore and is a regular on the all-academic team. Unlike Beale, Jessee has no interest in jumping out of planes. Her definition of adventure is a little different.
“I would never go skydiving,” she said. “I wouldn’t jump off South Point. Bria and I and a couple of teammates went hiking in Hamakua after the third gulch. We hiked up river beds. I consider that adventurous.”
In 2019, she played in just 12 matches after hurting her left knee. Jessee came down from a block and twisted her knee. No surgery was needed, just a lot of rehab work, which still continues.
Being from Alaska, she rolls with the jokes, including the most asked one, “What’s it like to live in an igloo?”
“Too many times to count I’ve been asked that,” she said. “People are surprised we have cars and an actual city. People not from Hawaii but the mainland ask why is it so cold, you’re next to Hawaii? I’m like, ‘Have you ever seen a globe?’
“I love Alaska. It’s weird. In the summer, the sun never sets. The winter is dark and cold. But you get used to it. It slowly goes away and comes back. I live in a small community, 300,000 people, so if I walk around in Anchorage, I’ll see someone I know. If I do well, I have a lot of support back home.”
Volleyball has been her ticket to college, but it has been softball that’s been her true love, not basketball, where she struggled to make close-to-the-rim layups. But she often batted .400 or .500 in high school.
That’s where her career interest to become a sports agent came from. Her younger brother Brody plays baseball, the shared family sport. She hasn’t even watched Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire.
Her favorites players are Albert Pujols and DJ LeMahieu. Jessee doesn’t have a favorite team, but that’s understandable. It’s like asking someone from Hawaii, what’s your Iditarod dog racing team?
A favorite food from home is reindeer. Jessee has frozen reindeer sticks, like Slim Jim beef jerky, sent from mom Karey. Before you think Alaska is eating Rudolph, remember that Hawaii eats way more spam, which is made from pork and ham. Porky the Pig is just as lovable a character as Santa’s Rudolph.
Jessee’s plan is to come back as an undergraduate in 2022 and eventually go to law school, hopefully in Texas. But Hawaii will always be a second home. She’s been coming to Hilo since the eighth grade.
Both Beale and Jesse have tried all the local grinds, spam musubi, loco moco, and get their food fix at Verna’s, home to the state’s best slogan: If can, can. If no can, Verna’s.
“I love local food, chicken long rice and squid luau is really good, too. We love Verna’s,” Jessee said. “Their shoyu chicken and mac salad are really good there, too.”
Shoyu chicken hits the spot for Beale, too.
“My favorite is probably the shoyu chicken,” she said. “We’d go to Verna’s after a bunch of games.”
Beale and Jesse won’t be hard to miss if they’re at Verna’s. If you shout, “Hey Skydiver,” then Beale will turn around, next to her 6-3 teammate.