Team gets motivation from playing on California sand

By Paige Fieldsted, Staff Writer

Utah isn’t the ideal location for beach volleyball training, particularly in early spring.

Although Utah prepared as well as it could in the snowy conditions, the women’s volleyball team took seventh out of eight teams in the fourth annual Collegiate Beach Volleyball Championship held in Riverside, Calif., last weekend.

“The competition was great and all the players got better, throughout training and the tournament,” said head coach Beth Launiere. “I really feel strongly that it helps our indoor game. It’s not just about playing on the beach, it’s about improving our indoor game and it did that.”

Four different groups of Utah volleyball players competed in the beach tournament against other top programs in the nation such as No. 3 Nebraska, No. 4 Texas, No. 7 Hawaii, No. 13 Southern California, No. 19 San Diego, North Carolina and UC-Riverside.

Four different flights, A, B, C and D, divided the teams into different pools, with the higher flights earning more points for the teams.

Former Ute Lori Baird and Keisha Fisher took eighth place in flight A after they went 1-2 in pool play, beating UC-Riverside, but losing to Nebraska and USC.

Former outside hitter Kathryn Haynie combined with senior Chelsey Sandberg and competed in the B pool, where they earned sixth place with wins against both Nebraska and UC-Riverside.

Utah’s third duo, Abby Simmons and Karolina Bartkowiak, earned seventh in their pool, while Utah’s final group, Sarah Hibbert, Stephanie Shardlow and Emillie Toone, took sixth place in pool D.

“Going to the tournament was just a great overall experience,” Launiere said. “We were right next to the AVP venue and our players got to see and experience that culture.”

Although not living near the beach put the Utes at a slight disadvantage from some of the other teams in the tournament, Launiere said the tournament only helped to prepare her team.

“The California girls grow up playing on the beach,” Launiere said. “But this is just motivation for our players to play in the summer and improve their game.”

With sand volleyball recently being passed as an emerging sport in the collegiate athletics, the tournament could prove to be valuable training for the future.

On Tuesday, the NCAA added sand volleyball to the list of emerging sports, which means 10 schools have committed to have it as a sport when the first season opens in 2011.

When 40 schools commit to the sport, sand volleyball will be added to the list of championship sports.

“I am in support of it as a sport,” Launiere said. “It’s a great spectator sport and I think our players learned this weekend the training and skill it takes to be good at it.”

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Thien Sok

Despite the volleyball team taking seventh out of eight teams at the Collegiate Beach Volleyball Championship in Riverside, Calif., last weekend, head coach Beth Launiere said the team gained valuable training experience.