Mustang Report

Service Off the Sand

Beach volleyball standout Ella Connor gives local nonprofit organizations a bump.

Beach volleyball player Ella Connor jumps as she serves on the sand

Ella Connor serves while competing against LMU during the Center of Effort Challenge at the Swanson Beach Volleyball Complex.

For fans of Cal Poly Beach Volleyball, many know Ella Connor as one of the best players in the country. As a freshman, she was named an American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American and helped the Mustangs win their third straight Big West championship in 2022.

Connor returned to the sand this year after a redshirt sophomore season. She notched more than 25 wins with teammate Izzy Martinez in 2024, vaulting the program to top 10 national rankings.

But most fans don’t know about her passion for service off the sand. Since last spring, Connor has raised funds and awareness for the San Luis Obispo Food Bank and Jack’s Helping Hand, a SLO County nonprofit that assists children with cancer and special needs. Connor spearheaded multiple events centered around beach volleyball where attendees donated money, food and other supplies.

Where did the spark for altruism come from? Connor attributes it to her upbringing in Hawai’i and the culture that shaped her.

“I’ve always been very interested in outreach and helping the community because I think at home in Hawai’i, it’s very family-based and community-based.”

The events she helped put on were a resounding success, raising thousands of dollars in donations for those charities as well as more in food items and even toys. Connor is grateful that she has been able to use her platform as a student-athlete to help others with the support of the Athletic Department and the university.

A group of Cal Poly beach volleyball players smile on the sand while holding a check for a charity organization

Connor and her teammates with a check for Jack’s Helping Hand. Image courtesy of Cal Poly Athletics.

“The willingness that other people had to donate made me feel like what we were doing was good,” said the kinesiology major. “I feel very grateful for the opportunity that I was given. Our team talks about outreach and helping others a lot, so the fact that I can do stuff that I’m passionate about is very important to me.”

Connor balances her academics and community service with a challenging volleyball schedule, including regular faceoffs with the best collegiate players in the country. In April, seven of the top 10 teams — which included Cal Poly — squared off at the Swanson Beach Volleyball Complex for the Center of Effort Challenge. The complex of five sand courts is one of the best on-campus venues for the sport in the United States.

The sun sets over the Swanson Beach Volleyball Complex as teams compete on the sand

The sun sets on the Center of Effort Challenge, which featured seven of the top 10 collegiate beach volleyball teams in the nation.

The Mustangs took down TCU (No. 5) and LMU (No. 10) but fell to top ranked UCLA and Florida State (No. 4). They walked away with the No. 3 spot in the tournament and their first win over a top five team.