- Washington vs. Oregon | 10 AM | April 12 | Portland
- Washington vs. Portland State | 12 PM | April 12 | Portland
- Washington vs. Boise State | 2 PM | April 12 | Portland
In case you missed it, our colleague Terry Wood previews Washington’s one and only day of 2014 sand volleyball competition. The report is in today’s Seattle Times; a slightly longer version follows:
Seattle may not be Surf City USA, but it is the new home of a Division I women’s beach volleyball team.
Collegiately the sport is called sand volleyball, and this year Washington has joined more than 40 D-I schools that have granted the game varsity-sport status.
UW’s inaugural season involves a roster of underclassmen from last year’s NCAA Final Four indoor squad, and it will be brief -- just one day. On Saturday the Huskies will travel to Portland (The Courts in Eastmoreland) to play a tripleheader against fellow Northwest sand converts Oregon (10 a.m.), Portland State (noon) and Boise State (2 p.m.).
In the future, the spring sport may feature around 10 matches, the roster will likely include several sand specialists, and the team could play at an on-campus waterfront facility on Lake Washington.
That’s the brightest potential outcome of a three-year plan envisioned for the sport by Jim McLaughlin, UW’s indoor coach and newly christened director of volleyball. In this inaugural season, McLaughlin has assigned first-year indoor assistant Keegan Cook to serve as sand coach while he stays focused on indoor and recruiting.
“I like the direction it’s going, and I think it’s going to help our indoor game,” McLaughlin said.
“We decided if we’re going to do it, we want to do it like the indoor game -- do it right and be successful,” he said. “But the priority is the indoor game. If this (sand) supplements that, we’re going to be good.”
Beach volleyball, as demonstrated by the interest generated by Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh during their string of three Olympic gold medal wins starting in 2004, can attract a big following. By 2009 a few indoor college coaches floated the idea of getting the game added to the NCAA’s inventory of sponsored sports.
“I don’t think the weather is a factor, They say it is for golf and softball, but we’ve been pretty good in those sports, and our baseball team is No. 1 in the Pac-12." -Jim McLaughlin
A handful of warm-weather schools started competing in 2012. McLaughlin had ambitions of joining the movement and recruited an international star, Summer Ross, for the start of UW’s 2011 indoor season.
UW delayed plans to add the sport, waiting to see if more schools would come aboard. Ross transferred and has since gone pro. Washington is now the eighth Pac-12 school to make sand VB a varsity sport.
“My biggest fear early on was this would be too much,” McLaughlin said. “But what we’re finding is that it also can invigorate players. These kids love it. They’re in the sand, it’s easier on your body, and there’s a fitness component to it that’s good. It’s a different enough game that it kind of revives you.
The benefits? “When you’re playing a two-man game, you can’t hide,” he said. “You’ve got to play the entire game and have a complete skill level. You’ve got to pass, set, hit shots, spike and serve. Having all these kids do all those skills all the time is really a benefit to their development.”
Cook, 28, was an assistant at St. Mary’s last year and help that school prep for its debut sand season in 2013. Like UW’s indoor players, he’s learning as he goes.
“My original tone was to mold things after the indoor game: very diligent preparation, detailed, fast-paced practices, lots and lots of reps, clearly defined methods,” he said. “All of which sounds good, but what I found is the learning curve was so steep for the girls was that they didn’t need things quite so advanced. They needed to learn just a few concepts really well.
“What they needed was time in the sand, playing two-on-two, fewer drills and a slower pace of practice,” he said. “They needed to be allowed to play and make mistakes.”
The team started practicing in the first week of February three to four times a week, training primarily at Golden Gardens Park in Ballard, but sometimes at Alki Beach, courts in Juanita, Kirkland or, on bad-weather days, Seattle’s Sandbox Sports.
“I think it’s fun,” said junior Krista Vansant, the 2013 national player of the year. “It’s a very different game, and it’s fun for all of us to do something different. We’re all learning the more strategic part of volleyball.
“It’s still pass and hit,” she said, “but it’s just you and your partner, not six people, so it takes a lot more communication, a lot more vibing, I guess, between the two of you. Serving tactics are different. Then you have to deal with the elements, wind and sun.
“For a lot of us it’s been hard in a way to completely learn a different game and not be very good for a little bit,” she said. “But it’s been cool to see improvement and see the process working.”
McLaughlin said he is awaiting approval of a proposed three-court (one covered) facility in the vicinity of the new UW track. Eventually he will be able to offer six sand-specific scholarships (he gets 12 for indoor) and anticipates someday hiring a sand-specialized coach.
Players signed to a sand scholarship, he says, cannot play indoor for their first two seasons, but indoor players can go both ways all four years.
‘We’ll always have some crossover,” he said. “We’re still working on the model, how we’re going to do it. We’ll have a beach coach, and that person will train the girls who are only beach girls during our (indoor) season.
“We’ve got three years to figure it out,” he said. “It could be earlier. I think I just told our administration to give us three years. But I want to make sure it’s done right so we have a successful program.
“Right now it’s a pain to get the girls in a van and go downtown because we don’t have a court on campus yet,” he said. “But once we get our facility it will be great.”
Can the sport flourish in the spring in the Northwest? “I don’t think the weather is a factor,” McLaughlin said. “They say it is for golf and softball, but we’ve been pretty good in those sports, and our baseball team is No. 1 in the Pac-12. If you get the right kids, coach well and work hard, the wins will come. We’ll be like we’ve been on the indoor side.”