Rivals Max Waltzman of Natick and Aaron Shapiro of Framingham unite for Team USA beach volleyball

May 21, 2017

When Natick’s Max Waltzman and Framingham’s Aaron Shapiro meet on opposite sides of the volleyball court, the neighboring towns’ long-held rivalry is evident.

“I would definitely say we are friendly rivals,” said Shapiro, a junior outside hitter for the defending state champion Flyers. “It’s pretty much all smiles beforehand, and you’ll give the opponent a few smiles here and there, but that’s it.”

“I am one of the most competitive people I know, and he is the same,” said Waltzman, a junior outside hitter for the Red Hawks. “When it comes to playing the game, we are all business.”

That competitiveness will be put to good use in July, as Waltzman and Shapiro will put aside their border rivalry to play for the U.S. beach volleyball team at the World Maccabi Games in Israel — the premier global event for Jewish athletes.

It’s an assignment that came as a surprise to both. Given its climate, Massachusetts isn’t exactly a hotbed for beach volleyball. Last December, Shapiro was pursuing a spot on Team USA for the Maccabi traditional volleyball competition over six days in July. During the tryout in Philadelphia, a coach mentioned to Shapiro that there would be spots on the beach volleyball team as well, and that he might want to consider it despite his somewhat limited experience with the outdoor side of the game.

“Last year I got experience playing on the Natick sand courts with my Framingham teammates. We would go a few times a week,” Shapiro said. “Over the summer, I’ll also play beach volleyball at camp, but it can be difficult to play consistently in the weather here.”

The tryout was successful. Shapiro was offered a spot on the traditional team. But the beach offer still volleyed around in his head.

“I was super excited to be selected, but I also still had a mind that I wanted to try beach volleyball,” he said.

That’s when he gave Waltzman a call. The two played club volleyball at Newton’s Beantown Volleyball Club and in summer play at Middleboro’s Camp Avoda. Waltzman sent film to Maccabi USA and its coaches, and the two were quickly named to the U.S. entry for the junior boys beach competition.

A major challenge for Shapiro and Waltzman is a lack of training time together. Spring high school season, academic responsibilities and the polar opposite of beach weather keep the two from getting together much to train, leaving them to rely on individual workouts instead. But a quality Waltzman enjoys about beach volleyball is the one that individual workouts benefit players.

“I feel like beach volleyball required a little bit more athleticism,” Waltzman said.

The focus for both at the moment is the pending MIAA tournament, which both Natick and Framingham should be slated for when seeding is done Tuesday. The Red Hawks (8-7) and Flyers (11-4) split their season series, with Waltzman leading Natick to a 3-2 victory early in the season with 14 kills and 11 digs. After a tough patch in the middle of the regular season, Shapiro’s Framingham squad got its revenge two weeks ago with a 3-0 win.

Said Shapiro of Framingham: “I think teams are going to have a hard time with us come the playoffs.”

Once Shapiro and Waltzman retire their school jerseys for the season, their attention will turn to representing their country and having the experience of a lifetime.

“I’m absolutely honored to wear USA on my jersey,” Waltzman said. “I’ve dreamed about wearing the USA for a long time.”