EAST MANATEE -- Demi-Shay Watchorn doesn't take no for an answer. She sees an obstacle as a bridge to her dream.
Standing only about 5-foot-6, the Braden River senior knew her chance of playing Division I volleyball was slim. But she had played beach volleyball for two years, and colleges were starting to give scholarships for the sport.
Watchorn put together a video of her volleyball skills and sent them to Division I schools. They turned her down, but she wouldn't take no for an answer.
Her mother Kimberly and her great uncle attended Mercer University and that school was starting a Sand Team (which is the equivalent of beach volleyball). Demi-Shay sent a video to the new coach, made a visit there, and received an athletic scholarship she says will cover about half of her costs.
Never miss a local story.
She signed her letter of intent on Friday.
"I like beach volleyball better because it's easier on my body and a lot of fun," Watchorn said. "If you are diving on a gym floor it hurts. The sand gives a little. It's easier to twist and turn and you might not be so prone to a torn ACL."
Another thing Demi-Shay had going for herself was her drive and determination. Mercer Sand Team head coach Damian Elder said he felt compelled to offer her a scholarship at their first meeting.
"You could tell she was the type of person you would want to help start a program," Elder said. "This is our first year of competing and next year will be our first season with scholarship players. She has good athletic skills, but it's her demeanor and drive that really get to you."
Braden River head volleyball coach Matt McElhiney echoes similar thoughts and predicts his former setter will have a successful collegiate career.
"Her work ethic is unmatched by anybody I have coached in my 10 years," McElhiney said. "Her desire blows everyone out of the water. Her determination and leadership is infectious and changes the dynamics of a team. Her ball control and all-around skills translates to beach volleyball and that is where her passion has shifted."
Watchorn showed her determination last year. After transferring from Palmetto High, she was forced to sit out the season by the Florida High School Athletic Association because her family moved into Braden River's district about a week after McElhiney was named head coach. She played on a club team coached by him, and the FHSAA automatically ruled she was recruited.
Watchorn, who turns 18 in June, said her family's move had nothing to do with McElhiney being named the coach. But instead of sulking, she joined the weight lifting team at Braden River and gained strength that will help her in sand volleyball.
"The one year I couldn't play made me more determined," Watchorn said. "When you play a sport for as long as I have you kind of take it for granted. Then it's taken away from you and your dedication is renewed."
College sand volleyball matches consist of two-person teams instead of the six-person teams used in the indoor game. It's more pressure, but Watchorn finds that more attractive.
"There is no one to rely on in sand volleyball. It's you and your partner and you have to be mentally stronger and better prepared," Watchorn said. "It's more a strategy game. It's like more reading and seeing the court. The sand court is smaller and there is less room to make mistakes."