ANAHEIM, Calif. — It’s one thing to be a high-quality volleyball player good enough to play for your country. It’s another to have one of your closest friends be on the journey with you.
That’s the story of Liberty junior Abigail Mullen and Olathe Northwest senior Sky Pierce.
The duo are both outside hitters with Mullen hitting opposite at times (Mullen at 6’3, Pierce at 6’2), and have known each other since they were kids playing against each other in the club circuit. They began playing with each other on the club level for Team Dynasty just three years ago, forming one of the most formidable attacks in the country.
The year that Pierce joined Mullen at Dynasty, the team won the 2021 U15 open USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championship going 11-0 and losing only four sets.
Their U17 team also finished second at USAV Nationals in the 17 Open division in July.
“About three years ago is when we finally started knowing each other more and playing together and becoming really good friends,” Mullen said.
“Knowing each other other than just ‘Oh, that’s a big hitter. We need to watch out for her. Oh gosh, don’t hit at her. Get ready to block her,'” Pierce said.
A national championship was just a precursor to what was to come for the duo next.
Thanks to film being sent off by their coaches, Mullen and Pierce were both invited to USA Volleyball’s National Team Development Program. The invite includes 30 to 50 girls playing volleyball, training and learning with the thought of playing for Team USA as an afterthought.
So when the pair learned they were selected for the U19 team, a wave of emotions came over them.
“I was in Nebraska at the time when I found out,” Pierce said, who is committed to play for the powerhouse Cornhuskers. Mullen will commit after she takes official visits when she comes home.
“Kind of like, you made it to this point. All the hard work, all the effort, it’s paid off, and you’re finally where you thought you would be at this point.”
Mullen got her email while at school and shared the news with her favorite teacher, classmates and of course, her friend Sky.
“It was so exciting, just cause not a lot of people are on the same team. So it was like cool to go through the experience together just from knowing her for so long,” Mullen said.
“Especially just going club and one, not playing with each other and just playing with each other and knowing each other,” Pierce said.
“But then joining each other at Dynasty and then going through this team, knowing that we would be able to bounce off each other or talk to each other about anything throughout the experience, which is, I think, a very helpful thing to get through everything that was going on, all the emotions, everything.”
Pierce was also a part of USA Volleyball’s 2020 High Performance Girls Youth A2 Team as well as going through the NTDP for beach volleyball as well.
Mullen went on to help the U19 team win gold at the Pan-American Cup in Tulsa. And on Friday, she was a key contributor in helping the U19 team secure another gold medal at the FIVB Girls U19 World Championship in Osijek, Croatia, along with going 9-0 in the tournament.
She had nine kills and three blocks in the final match against Türkiye.
“It was so crazy,” she said. “It was such an incredible experience.
“That was my first time going to Europe playing against other teams, like Serbia and Türkiye and Poland. That was cool in itself just learning how they play.”
“I think with a bunch of like 16 and 17-year-olds, a lot of people didn’t think we were going to win or like get that far. I think we kind of came with an underdog mentality and we have nothing to lose. This is our moment just to go prove something.”
And her friend Sky wasn’t able to make the trip but was up at 8 a.m. every morning watching her win.
“Me and my mom, we were up there, we were watching, we were cheering her on, and it was just so cool.”
Now the friends are back together in Anaheim, California where they’ve gotten the call up to the U21 team. Most of the previous U21 roster is getting ready for their college season with their respective teams which means the U21 will be filled with only high schoolers with Pierce as the eldest.
After a few days of training, Mullen, Pierce and U21 Team USA will head to the 2023 FIVB Women’s U21 World Championship on August 17-26 in Aguascalientes and Lèon, Mexico.
While Pierce and Mullen will miss some days at the beginning of the school year, they’re savoring every moment they get to play with each other and be each other’s biggest cheerleaders.
“We both have a tell when we’re kind of in our head or feeling frustrated with ourselves,” Pierce said. “I think that’s when we give each other that look.
“You need to talk to her, like, ‘Hey, you got the next play, you’re going to kill the next ball, like, you got it.'”
“Stuff like that, just kind of reassure them in their head that they’re meant to be here. They deserve to be in here at this moment.”
The U21 Team will face Cuba, Türkiye and Netherlands in pool play. Pierce and Mullen have a chance to be a part of history as the United States is looking for its first medal at the Women’s U21 World Championship.
Here is the schedule for the U21 World Championship. All matches will be live-streamed here.
- Thursday, Aug. 17 at 6 p.m. USA vs Cuba
- Friday, Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. USA vs Türkiye
- Saturday, Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. USA vs Netherlands
- Aug. 21-24, Second round of pool play
- Aug. 25, Semifinals and classification playoffs
- Aug. 26, Finals