The Manatee River is a few feet away, and the wind is rushing in from the water.
A sunny day is about to turn rainy at Realize Bradenton’s Riverwalk beach volleyball courts and put a slight damper on the first beach volleyball match in Bradenton Christian history — and the first competitive high school match in the history of Manatee County.
Other than the slight weather mishap — and the Panthers’ 2-1 loss to Seffner Christian Academy in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference matchup — Bradenton Christian provided a good template of what to expect during its first season on the beach. A casual atmosphere in the middle of a public park provides a different vibe.
“It’s more relaxed,” said Mary Emma Thomas, an eighth-grader at Bradenton Christian who played in the inaugural match.
Parents pulled out beach chairs. Passers-by along the Riverwalk dropped in to stand in the sand for a moment and watch. Stone lounge chairs planted sporadically around the two courts made for prime real estate for a few lucky spectators.
For most the afternoon, the river and the rush hour-packed U.S. 41 bridge that crosses over it provided the scenic backdrop at the venue Bradenton Christian will call home for two more home games. The next is April 4 against Largo Indian Rocks Christian, and when the Panthers return they hope they’ll have made an adjustment to the venue.
It’s more relaxed.
MaryEmma Thomas, Bradenton Christian eighth-grader
Even before the sky turned dark and rain showers arrived, wind made it tough for the Panthers to control their passes. Bradenton Christian had to keep its passes low to keep the wind from carrying them. It was the first time the Panthers had played at the riverfront venue, whose two courts have their nets perpendicular to the water.
“You had to adjust and wait for the wind to at least kind of stop before you could serve,” said Emma Bivona, another eighth-grader. “The wind either carried it shorter or deeper, so we had to adjust to that.”