Sister, sister: Two sets of siblings give GCU beach volleyball team unique identity

Charlize Checani, left, and her older sister, Kamilah, are one pair of sisters on the Grand Canyon University beach volleyball team. (Photo by Harris Hicks/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – It’s a rare sight in college sports: two pairs of sisters on the same team.

Yet that’s the case for the Grand Canyon beach volleyball team, a rising program that has finished in the top 15 in the last four seasons. The Lopes are off to a 4-4 start and are eyeing their third straight NCAA tournament invitation.

Kamilah and Charlize Checani grew up in Gilbert. Becca and Jessica Drake hail from Fresno, California. The foursome makes up 16% of the Lopes’ roster.

“All four of them, just very nice, hardworking, diligent, basically everything you’d look for in an athlete in terms of somebody who’s gonna come out and do their best,” coach Abra Rummel said.

Siblings who land on same roster can be valuable for a team in the chemistry department and make the bonding process easier, an important trait in a collegiate era of ever-changing rosters.

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The Checani sisters each began playing volleyball at age 4. Kamilah, a junior, and Charlize, a freshman, tried kickboxing, figure skating, softball, tennis and jujitsu. Eventually, they both decided to settle on one sport and fell in love with volleyball.

“One day we were at the park with our friends and began to play and we got destroyed,” Charlize said. “We were like, ‘This is the best thing ever.’”

When they started to play beach volleyball at Highland High School, their relationship entered a new territory.

“We weren’t as close, so we would fight all the time, Kamiliah said. “After we won our first tournament, it was smooth sailing. We stopped fighting.”

When the time came for Kamiliah to go to college, GCU was her first and only choice. Three years later, Charlize received an offer offer from Long Beach State, but she turned it down to be with Kamiliah at Grand Canyon.

For any collegiate athlete, juggling academics and sports is a challenge. That’s especially true for freshmen, so Charlize is grateful for the guidance of her older sister. Both are studying nutritional science. Kamilah’s dream career is to be a physician’s assistant, and her younger sister hopes to be a holistic doctor and professional volleyball player.

“I would definitely say inspiration,” Charlize said when describing Kamilah. “She works so hard, and she always has these hard classes. She’s always studying. She’s always on the grind. So definitely a good role model to have and just know that I can do it.”

The Drakes’ journey to volleyball was heavily influenced by their dad, who played volleyball at UC Santa Barbara. He inspired them to train hard and work to be the best.

Jessica Drake, left, and her sister, Becca, are both studying elementary education at GCU in addition to playing beach volleyball. (Photo by Harris Hicks/Cronkite News)

The sisters started with grass volleyball and then transitioned to beach volleyball together.

Jessica, now a junior, and Becca, a freshman, had their minds set on GCU the moment they stepped on campus for a tour. They were determined to stay together, with both looking to study elementary education.

“One hundred percent,” Becca said. “I think from day one, (we decided) we’re a package deal, we’re going to the same place, so I was going to do whatever it took. I’m going to walk on if I have to.”

For Jessica, college was a major adjustment.

“Moving in the sand is a big adjustment compared to a court,” she said. “The way you set the ball is definitely different, like tempo, blocking, and pulling off the net. It’s honestly a whole different game. For indoor, it’s more of a broad jump; on the beach, you have to set your feet.”

The sisters hopes to help the Lopes to a victory against Long Beach State March 13.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jaden Batiest expects to graduate in August 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Harris Hicks HAIR-iss hicks
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Harris Hicks expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Hicks has interned as a sports broadcast intern for Arizona’s Family Channel 5, producing video packages, broadcast scripts and acquiring footage.