Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sand | Washington volleyball “excited” to start sand season in Sacramento

A short season kicks off this weekend against Keegan Cook’s alma mater, St. Mary’s
  • Sat, Mar 21 | 11:00AM | vs. St. Mary’s @ Sacramento State
  • Sat, Mar 21 | 2:00PM | vs. Pacific @ Sacramento State
  • Sun, Mar 22 | 11AM | @ Sacramento State
  • Mon, Mar 23 | 4:00PM | @ Pacific (Stockton)

Sacramento State hosts this weekend's tournament
-Sacramento State Athletics
Head coach may be a new title for Keegan Cook in indoor volleyball. But he’s already a veteran head man for sand volleyball.

Cook, who will lead Washington’s indoor program this fall, is in his second season as Washington’s head sand coach. The Huskies travel to Sacramento State this weekend for three matches, then to Stockton for a repeat match with the University of the Pacific.

“The intensity’s high,” Cook tells Volleyblog Seattle. “We’ve been training pretty hard for about two months and we’re excited to play somebody other than ourselves. We’re excited to see how much progress we’ve made.”

The Huskies will divide into five pairs, designated one through five. For each match, UW’s “ones” will play a best-of-three sets against the opponent’s “ones,” and so on. The winner will be whichever school wins at least 3 of the 5 matchups.

“It’s an interesting dynamic,” says Cook, “in that all your teams have equal value to the team’s victory.”

While a few schools—Pepperdine, UCLA and USC, for example—have teams made up mostly of sand players who are not on the indoor team, all of Washington’s current sand players are also on the indoor roster. With just one more practice this week, Cook has not yet finalized which players will pair together, and which will be the number one, two, three, four and five pairs.

“We’re close, he says. “We’ve got quite a bit of depth and parity on our team. People have good days, and we have a perception of what the best teams are. Then we go to practice and somebody decides to flip the script a little bit. It’s made bringing together teams a little more challenging. But, I think that’s a good thing.”

Saturday’s season-opening opponent is St. Mary’s, where Cook went to school and was an assistant coach for the women’s team. He’ll see players he recruited and coached. “You get to run into your friends quite a bit in this business,” he says. “It’s always kind of bittersweet. It’s great to play against people that you have a relationship with. But there’s always different emotions.”

This is the second season for sand at Washington. For the third year in a row, the national championships will be conducted by the American Volleyball Coaches Association in Gulf Shores, Alabama, May 1-3. Next year, sand volleyball officially becomes the NCAA’s newest championship sport. This year, Cook scheduled just two tournaments (this weekend and in a few weeks at Stanford) and two dual competitions (Monday at Pacific and April 4 against Oregon in Portland.) Why so few?

“It’s been part of a bigger plan to grow gradually, says Cook. “Last year was about teaching the game. This year was about expanding our competitive level and playing more matches. More of a thoughtful process instead of just going all in.”

Hard to imagine, however, that Cook’s athletes won’t go all in once their feet hit the sand on Saturday.

  • Pacific would seem to be the team to beat this weekend. The Tigers (6-2) already have wins against Stanford, Cal (twice), St. Mary’s, Cal State Northridge, and San Jose State, with losses to Loyola Marymount and Long Beach State. Sacramento State is 2-2 in 2015, defeating San Francisco (4-1) and San Jose State (4-1), and falling to Stanford (0-5) and California (0-5). St. Mary’s is 1-2, with a 5-0 win over San Jose State, and losses to Pacific (1-4) and Santa Clara (2-3).
  • Pacific senior Megan Birch is a graduate of Monroe High School. Birch plays on the Tigers’ #2 pair.
  • Sacramento State freshman Julia Wright graduated from Bellarmine Prep. Fellow freshman Shannon Boyle is a Ridgefield High grad, and sophomore Courtney Dietrich graduated from Chelan High.
  • In the current AVCA Sand Poll, Hawai’i is ranked #1, followed by #2 Pepperdine, #3 USC, #4 Florida State, #5 Long Beach State, #6 Loyola Marymount, #7 Florida International, #8 Pacific and #9 UCLA. Arizona and Stetson are tied for #10.

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