Mather: Beach volleyball should be your new favorite sport

April 13, 2016, 12:17 a.m.

I’m going to come right out and admit it: When I first made a trip down to the Stanford Sand Volleyball Stadium last year, it was only because I had been assigned an article that I didn’t particularly ask for and had to go report on it. I didn’t really know the details of how normal volleyball was played, let alone its beach-based counterpart and wasn’t really expecting to be wowed.

As I went through the motions of being a sports reporter, however, it started to dawn on me just how impressive the events unfolding around me were. Here I was, surrounded by sand and palm trees in the middle of Stanford’s campus watching points get scored and spikes get landed on as many as five different courts at once.

In terms of spectator sports, it’s hard to ask for much more than beach volleyball provides. The event, which is about as faithful to the idyllic vision of California as you can get, combines exciting action with a fun culture – and, at least at Stanford, a truly awesome viewing experience. It also somehow feels more relatable than indoor volleyball: While it can be hard to understand the positioning and tactics of the variant that is played in gymnasiums, almost anybody can understand running around on the sand and trying to hit a ball over a net.

More excitement has come to beach volleyball this year through the evolution of the sport itself at the collegiate level. Starting this season, beach volleyball features championship events for both the NCAA and the Pac-12, adding a bit more of a competitive feel to the Stanford team’s event. The Cardinal are shifting their composition along with this change, adding more dedicated beach recruits to their set of indoor adaptees in order to contend for these events and potentially add to the school’s national title count.

Not that results should be all that important to anyone but the most devoted spectators. Entertainment in the sport comes on almost every point as each pair dives after mishit balls and attempts to use its three touches to set itself up to win a point.

The pace is less like football and more like basketball, albeit without the same number of play stoppages and often with even more parity. Even in the event that one match reaches a break, at least a couple more are happening just feet away, each at different stages in the game. In some ways, a beach volleyball tournament is kind of like the first days of March Madness, with the main difference being that, instead of requiring incessant channel-flipping to see different events, a mere turn of the head will suffice.

Weather hasn’t been all that kind to the team’s events this year, but good conditions can bring a remarkable feeling to Stanford’s home courts. There truly aren’t that many places on this campus that are prettier than the Stanford Sand Volleyball Stadium on a sunny day, with its grassy berms and secluded environment. Even when the weather turns south, the matches can still be quite interesting – a core aspect of this sport, after all, is its outdoor DNA. Wind and rain can add a bit of a challenge to the game that alter its play in different ways.

Sadly, most of the team’s home events have ended for this year. However, the Cardinal’s beach program is really still in its opening chapters, and it seems almost certain that what’s now just a hidden stadium will gradually become an important redoubt in the world of collegiate beach volleyball. The squad will play one last matchup at home against San Jose State and Santa Clara this Thursday before hitting the road for the Pac-12 tournament, where it may face some highly-competitive conference competition like No. 4 UCLA and No. 1 USC.

So, if you find yourself with nothing to do later this week or are looking to try something new, it might be worth it to stop by. The season may be almost over, but the fun is just getting started.


Andrew Mather is currently looking for a competent beach partner to carry him through his West Coast summer tour. If interested, contact him at amather ‘at’ 

Andrew Mather served as a sports editor and as the Chief Operating Officer of The Daily. A devout Clippers and Iowa Hawkeyes fan from the suburbs of Los Angeles, Mather grew accustomed to watching his favorite programs snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He brought this nihilistic pessimism to The Daily, where he often felt a sense of déjà vu while covering basketball, football and golf.

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