Stanford women’s sand volleyball decisively beat Santa Clara 4-1 in its first match of the inaugural season at the ACSR Sand Volleyball Courts.
“For them [the players] it’s a chance to play more volleyball and to compete in a little different game, and that just makes them better. And you get out here and there’s more a social aspect to it,” said head coach John Dunning. “You’re out in the sun, and it’s a beautiful place to play. I think it’s fun. They really like the fun part of it, but it’s also a lot of hard work and they like that.
The first match of the season was certainly a social scene, with more than 200 fans supporting the Card in its opening match. Students and athletes were able to stop by and watch the action as they pleased. Andrew Luck ’12 and Coby Fleener ’12 were even in attendance to support Luck’s sister, junior defensive specialist Mary Ellen Luck.
Junior middle blocker Carly Wopat and freshman outside hitter Jordan Burgess won the Card’s historic first sand volleyball game 2-0 over Santa Clara’s sophomore outside hitter Taylor Milton and freshman outside hitter Danielle Rottman. Wopat and Burgess are the Card’s top-ranked pairing and earned their status by leading the Broncos the entire game.
In sand volleyball, each school presents five doubles teams, needing a minimum of three wins to capture the match. Unlike indoor volleyball, each doubles team plays a best of three sets, not five.
Wopat, a Santa Barbara native, grew up playing beach volleyball for fun and was thrilled when the sport was added to Stanford’s list of varsity athletics. She is just disappointed that they only get to play one match a day.
“Coming into the first match, we [Jordan and I] were trying to have fun, and as we kept going we started to get better and better, noticing things and getting used to the game,” Wopat said. “I think if we keep doing that, keep on improving, it’ll be great. And getting the first win feels awesome, it’s really exciting. Jordan and I were just super stoked and happy.”
Many members of the team, including Dunning, don’t have the background that Wopat has and are learning the game from scratch. Inexperience didn’t faze the Card, however, as it went on to win the next three out of four games.
No. 3 freshmen outside hitter Brittany Howard and setter Madi Bugg dropped the first set but came from behind to steal the game 2-1, propelled by a massive kill by Howard to seal the win.
No. 2 junior outside hitter Rachel Williams and sophomore libero/defensive specialist Kyle Gilbert lost 2-1 but played each set close in the most competitive match of the afternoon. No. 4 freshman middle blocker Inky Ajanaku and junior Mary Ellen Luck won their match 2-0, and No. 5 freshman middle blocker Megan McGehee and sophomore outside hitter Morgan Boukather also won a shutout match 2-0.
Sand volleyball is the nation’s newest emerging collegiate sport. With thirty schools total competing across the nation, only ten more schools need to adopt it in order for it to become an NCAA sport. Stanford’s ultimate plan is to recruit beach volleyball players specifically; however for the foreseeable future, the team will be comprised of returning indoor volleyball players and will be coached by mostly the same staff.
“We have some experience on our staff. Denise Corlett, our associate head coach for the indoor team, has been around [sand volleyball] a lot. Sara Dukes, our volunteer coach, played after she played here as an indoor player,” said head coach John Dunning. “The main thing that I’m concerned with is what this is doing to make our indoor team do better as well. We’re competing to win here and all 11 who are playing here are on our indoor team as well, so it’s going to help make our indoor team better, there’s no doubt about it.”
The Card practiced for two weeks at the end of winter quarter, but Monday was the team’s first practice in three weeks. Until May, sand volleyball will be the primary concern of the team, but later this spring there will be some crossover with indoor volleyball training and scrimmages. Sand volleyball helps keep the team’s competitive edge going during a time when it would typically be just doing drills in the gym.
Sand volleyball is great conditioning for indoor volleyball due to the added element of sand. Drills inside the gym require a lot more endurance when done in the sand, and the players tire a lot more easily. Points are quicker since players can’t get to every ball, and more energy is required for two players to cover so much space.
In addition, sand volleyball is a game of strategy, since the sand negates powerful hits and high jumping blocks. Court sense is key, and it’s important to recognize where the ball is going to be placed since there are only two players instead of six. Also, players can’t rely on specialized positions. Everyone is expected to learn every position and to be all over the court.
“Most of them [the carry-overs between indoor and sand] are between your ears — the things that you learn. You have to learn how to depend on each other more because in six sometimes you can have a role and others can hide a little bit, but this, out here, there’s no hiding,” Dunning said. “You can’t cover the court just staying in two spots. There’s a lot of strategy, so your partner has to see it and tell you about it. There’s a lot of really cool interaction — vision, balance — it’s amazing carry-over for indoor.”
The Card continues its inaugural season at the Sacramento State tournament this weekend.
Contact Ashley Westhem at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu