The University of Utah campus has many inspiring views; from the Bonneville shoreline, to the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains. However, Utah is not known for its beaches, which makes University of Utah beach volleyball all the more exciting.
“Beach has been a big learning curve for us,” said junior Adora Anae. “Knowing that it’s only you and your partner out there is tough, and the strategies are different, so it forces you to raise your IQ.”
When many people think of beach volleyball, they think of either Kari Walsh Jennings or the scene from “Top Gun.” Beach volleyball is physically demanding for many reasons. For starters, playing in the sand is a much different experience than playing on a hardwood court. Sand is a humbling experience for any person who prides themselves on their speed or vertical jump because players dig into the surface as they move and it is always changing. The conditioning for beach volleyball has to be ramped up in order to endure a full match.
Aside from the surface, the court size and number of players on the court factors into the difficulty of beach. A beach volleyball court is only three square feet smaller than an indoor volleyball court, which makes the thought of covering that space with only two players very daunting. Indoor volleyball is played with six-per-side, which makes it a lot easier to rely on teammates for support in a match. On the beach, there are only two players that must choose how to split the court in order to cover all returns, spikes and drop-shots that the opposition can throw at them.
Since the game is played outside and with a lighter ball than indoor, weather becomes an added factor to deal with. Teams play in the wind (although games will be postponed if too windy) and rain, but luckily for the Utes, they will not have to worry about playing in snow this season: the old field house has been repurposed for the team to train in climate controlled conditions during winter.
The roster for the beach will consist of 12 players pulled from the court. Head indoor and assistant beach coach Beth Launiere noted that the beach season comes at an interesting time for the Utes.
“We are in the middle of offseason and individual conditioning for indoor right now and so these girls are working double time to get ready for our beach schedule,” Launiere said. “Other schools in our conference have the luxury of having separate scholarships for the beach than they do for the indoor, allowing athletes to work on their beach play year round.”
Launiere continued by explaining how beach will affect recruiting all around for the team.
“Eventually, we will have to recruit beach specialists in order to be competitive but right now being able to play both disciplines is really helping our girls become smarter players.”
The Utes will have its work cut out for them this season. Playing in the Pac-12 means playing against teams who have warm weather all year and can get the full beach experience. The Utes must play in eight competitions to be eligible for the second NCAA National Championships for beach, where all roads lead to inaugural winner USC. Before then, the Utes will play tournaments in Hawaii, Stanford and Arizona, with head to head matches outside of tournament play to reach their eight competition mark.
“We are all really competitive, and being able to learn a new sport has been a lot of fun for us,” Anae said. “We just got our partners and we are ready to work.”
While there are no beaches on the remnant of Lake Bonneville, it’s certain that the Utes’ beach volleyball team will be ready to scorch the sand this season.