Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How popular is volleyball among high school girls?

Quick: What’s the most popular high school girls’ team sport in the Pac-12’s six Western states?

Basketball? Hoops have been around for a while, and get a lot of media attention.

Soccer? It’s up-and-coming; doesn’t every kid in America play soccer when they’re 8 years old?

No, the most popular high school girls’ team sport in the West … is volleyball. It’s number one in Arizona, Colorado, Oregon,Washington, Hawai’i, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Among the six states (below) with at least one Pac-12 team, volleyball trails only Track & Field in combined total number of participants. (I consider track, cross-country, swimming, golf, tennis, gymnastics & wrestling as “individual” sports, since athletes compete for individual state titles, in addition to a team championship.)

Here are the latest numbers from the National Federation of High Schools 2010-11 Participation Survey. (Number of participants in each sport in parentheses).

  1. Volleyball (7,276)
  2. Softball (6,532)
  3. Track & Field (6,497)
  4. Basketball (6,484)
  5. Soccer (5,803)

  1. Track & Field (44,625)
  2. Soccer (42,720)
  3. Volleyball (39,122)
  4. Basketball (32,839)
  5. Softball (32,816)

  1. Volleyball (9,328)
  2. Basketball (7,306)
  3. Soccer (7,217)
  4. Track & Field (6,672)
  5. Tennis (4,812)

  1. Volleyball (6,989)
  2. Track & Field (6,931)
  3. Basketball (6,216)
  4. Soccer (5,121)
  5. Softball (4,240)

  1. Basketball (3,564)
  2. Track & Field (3,470)
  3. Soccer (2,902)
  4. Volleyball (2,302)
  5. Softball (2,162)

  1. Volleyball (10,283)
  2. Track & Field (10,031)
  3. Soccer (9,421)
  4. Basketball (9,009)
  5. Tennis (7,649)

Pac-12’s six states
  1. Track & Field (78,226)
  2. Volleyball (75,300)
  3. Soccer (73,184)
  4. Basketball (65,418)
  5. Softball (57,162)
  6. Tennis (41,775)

Volleyball’s rank in other (non-Pac-12) Western States:
#1: Hawai’i, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming
#2: Alaska (behind basketball)

[Thanks to Terry Wood for the heads-up on the latest numbers]

[correction: Volleyball is #2 in Alaska behind basketball]

Monday, February 27, 2012

NCAA Sand Volleyball Off to Strange Start

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.
That said, only 16 schools will field teams this season, most (not all) near beaches, and none farther north than Malibu (Pepperdine):







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?
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.
Summer Ross
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.
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.
  1. Pepperdine
  2. USC
  3. Hawai’i
  4. Long Beach State
  5. Florida State

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.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How Seattle's proposed arena affects volleyball

A proposed new Seattle Arena could be good news for Northwest volleyball fans ... or maybe not.

At a press conference this afternoon, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine unveiled a proposal to build a $500 million sports arena south of Safeco Field, in the SODO neighborhood. (Or, to be accurate, they seemed to unveil a proposal to study a proposal to build an arena ...)

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn at press conference announcing new Seattle arena proposal.
Reporters and pundits have speculated that two professional teams might be willing to relocate in Seattle: The NBA's Sacramento Kings and the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes. Some have suggested that one or both teams could end up playing in Seattle Center's Key Arena while construction on the SODO facility is underway, perhaps for at least the next two years.

If that happens, volleyball will be part of the story.

NHL and NBA teams each play 41 regular-season home games over six months. On average, that means each team uses its home arena seven times per month; or a combined 14 dates per month. With setup/conversion time, arenas that share basketball and hockey rarely have available dates for other events between October and April (or beyond, depending on the playoffs.)

Key Arena will host the NCAA Division 1 Volleyball Final Four December 19-21, 2013. Historically, Final Fours have included at least two days of practice in the hosting arena before the semifinals, and sometimes include events the day after the championship. That could absorb as much as six days of the Key Arena calendar in 2013.

In the long run, a new arena could be a powerful draw for future Final Fours. Its proximity to the CenturyLink Events Center would be a big plus for the annual American Volleyball Coaches Association Conference. And it could conceivably be a venue for international matchups: the 1985 USA vs. USSR men's showdown at the Kingdome drew more than 14,000 fans, a record (since broken) for a volleyball crowd on American Soil.

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