The first steps have been tentative. Like walking barefoot on scorching sand.
|Florida State's sand courts|
In just a few days, sand volleyball launches as the newest NCAA sport. If you hadn’t heard about it, you’re not alone.
Here, then, is a primer:
If you know this two-person sport as Beach Volleyball, you probably live near a beach. The NCAA uses the term Sand Volleyball to allow those who live in mountains, prairies, swamps or tundras to field a team. And, yes, indoor sand courts are permitted.
SUN BELT FOCUS
That said, only 16 schools will field teams this season, most (not all) near beaches, and none farther north than Malibu (Pepperdine):
PAC-12 SITS IT OUT
Only one Pac-12 team—USC—is fielding a team this season. Washington considered it, ever so briefly, but the lack of enthusiasm from other Pac-12 schools created a chicken-and-egg stalemate. Why field a team if there's no one else to play?
THE SUMMER ROSS FACTOR
Summer Ross was a home-schooled athlete from San Diego who was the best junior volleyball player in the world; she won two international titles, each with a different partner, and was the first junior player ever named USA Volleyball Beach Female Athlete of the Year. Even so, she accepted a scholarship to play indoor volleyball at Washington, where she started as a freshman.
At the end of the season, Ross told Washington Coach Jim McLaughlin she wanted to play sand ball, and eventually transferred to Pepperdine (Ross also cited the desire to be closer to her family—her brother plays on the Pepperdine men’s team—and to attend a Christian college.)
At Washington, Ross was a three-tool player: great server, great passer, great defender. Her blocking was adequate, but she was not yet an offensive force on the right side; the cut shots and off-speed attacks that work so well on the beach were not terribly effective against elite indoor competition.
At Pepperdine, Ross will be the early favorite to be national sand player of the year. She could try to snag a beach spot at the London Olympic Games, and will have to determine whether to join Pepperdine’s strong indoor program in the fall (Pepperdine and Washington were among the few teams to defeat national champion UCLA.)
The Ross Factor? If a sand player can also excel indoors, then coaches at indoor powers may worry about losing recruits to schools offering both sports. That alone could encourage schools to add sand, though it might create conflicts during August, when teams are in training. It may not be much of a factor at the moment: The US Professional Beach Tour is a mess, and a lot of elite indoor players make good money playing overseas.
WHO’S COACHING/ WHO’S PLAYING?
Of the 16 sand teams, 9 will be coached by the school’s indoor coach (Pepperdine, Long Beach, Loyola, Jacksonville, Stetson, Webber, North Florida, Mercer and Charleston.) At UAB, indoor coach Kerry Messersmith’s husband, Hal, will coach the sand team.
USC’s indoor team has reached the Final Four the past two seasons, and it’s sand roster will include several members of last season’s indoor team. All-American setter senior Kendall Bateman and libero Natalie Hagglund are the biggest names; Kirby Burnham, Eve Ettinger, Katie Fuller, Sam Hirschmann, Sara Shaw and Emily Young are the other indoor athletes playing sand. Anna Collier will coach the team (not indoor veteran Mick Haley, who played pro beach ball in his younger days.)
|USC sand volleyball|
Pepperdine’s indoor team reached the Elite 8 last season, and every athlete on that team is listed on the roster of the Waves’ sand team. Summer Ross and Caitlin Racich round out the roster, both with sand scholarships.
Most other teams, including Hawai’i, Long Beach State and Florida State, follow the Pepperdine model, and list most of their indoor team on the sand roster.
FIVE SAND TEAMS THAT SHOULD BE CONTENDERS
- Long Beach State
- Florida State
WHO PLAYS WHERE AND WHEN?
The first matches are this week; the NCAA Championships (co-sponsored by the American Volleyball Coaches Association) are April 27-29 in Gulf Shores, Alabama
Teams play a combination of head-to-head matches sprinkled with 3-4 team tournaments; there are no conferences and no divisions and the schedule is not balanced (some play more opponents than others.) While schools like USC and Florida State are D1 athletic powerhouses; little Webber International (Winter Haven, Florida) is a member of the NAIA.
Four schools have tentatively announced plans to field teams in 2013: State College of Florida (Sarasota), University of Louisiana-Monroe, Florida International University (Miami) and Georgia State (Atlanta.) Seattle University has had some discussions about adding sand; other schools looking to ensure Title IX compliance may look to sand as a way to offer more athletic scholarships to women.