Prestigious volleyball award for Blackfriars student

A Blackfriars student has taken out a major Volleyball South Australia award, recognising his unwavering dedication and commitment to the sport.

Year 10 Ayush Kharel is the recipient of the Sophia Naismith SA Spirit Award. Sophia Naismith was a passionate junior volleyballer who represented South Australia on multiple occasions. She was killed in a tragic car accident in 2019, aged just 15.

Volleyball South Australia said the Spirit Award was given to an athlete who exhibited the same qualities as Sophia, including a “super positive and friendly outlook, compassion and thoughtfulness towards others and a never give-up attitude”.

“This accolade was created as a tribute to Sophia, a remarkable young athlete who epitomised the very essence of volleyball and represented South Australia with an unwavering commitment and enthusiasm,” Volleyball South Australia said.

“Ayush has demonstrated qualities akin to Sophia, exhibiting outstanding sportsmanship, unwavering dedication, and an ardent love for the sport.”

Ayush Kharel won the Sophia Naismith SA Spirit Award.Picture: Volleyball South Australia.

Ayush first started playing volleyball in as a Year 6 student and immediately fell in love with the game. The following year, he qualified for his first state team, in beach volleyball. That remains his favourite form of the game, having won back-to-back bronze medals at the National level.

“I was just like, ‘oh, wow’, because it means that everyone thinks you’re enthusiastic and kind and dedicated to the sport,” Ayush said of receiving the award. “She (Sophia) was an amazing girl … and this (award) makes me feel like I’m valued, I’m wanted. It’s a nice feeling.”

He currently trains six times a week, which increases in the lead up to a major competition. And while he loved the competitiveness of the sport, he said it was the friends he had made along the way that kept him involved.

“They’re just the best people you could ever meet,” he said.

Ayush, centre, with old scholar and coach Minh-Khoi Tran, students Minh-Chuong Tran (Year 9) and Thien Pham and teacher Michael Tran. Picture: Supplied

Just this year, he has won a silver medal (with Blackfriars teammate Eli Scharfbillig) at the Volleyball SA Beach Volleyball competition, won a bronze medal (with teammate Luke Huddleston) at the Australian Youth Beach Volleyball Championships, represented SA at the School Sport Australia Volleyball Championships and helped Blackfriars to a win in the Volleyball South Australia Schools Cup Year 10 Divisional Championship.

He was also named the U17 “Players’ Player”, as chosen by his teammates, following the recent 2023 Australian Youth Volleyball Championships.

Ayush hopes to one day play for Australia and, importantly, “keep having fun”.

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