As beach days go, this wasn’t a chamber of commerce keeper. A little too cloudy, a little too windy.
A beach umbrella spun itself away from the waves toward the parking lot, its owner giving chase but gaining little ground.
“The wind,” Nancy Cothron said, “let’s talk about the wind.”
Cothron, volleyball coach at Saint Stephen’s, was working with a handful of high school players on the sand courts at Manatee Beach. She was glad for the wind, because the elements play a big role when the sport moves outdoors to the sun, sand and wind.
You can’t set, dig or return a serve on the beach like you can in the climate-controlled indoor game. The wind never blows inside. It does outside.
“You have to move around the ball,” Cothron explained. “You always hit facing the net.”
The girls nodded.
High school volleyball has three seasons: the school season, the club season and the beach season.
“It’s amazing,” Cothron said. “It’s almost year-round. The kids are playing all the time.”Players use the club season to increase their visibility to college coaches. They use the beach season to hone their indoor skills.
Beach volleyball provides the perfect setting for a player who wants to improve all areas of her game. You serve, set, dig, play the net. With two players, you have to cover the entire court.
“You have to play everything,” said Maggie Holbert, who will be a senior at Saint Stephen’s this fall.
It’s possible to go long stretches during the indoor game without touching the ball. In beach volleyball, each player touches the ball at least once a possession.
It’s those touches, Cothron said, that develop the skills, just like getting at-bats in baseball or reps in football practice.
“It helps all aspects of your game,” said Alexandria Youngs, who graduated from Manatee High in June. “It helps your ball control, your ball placement. It sharpens your technique. And you hustle a lot. You hit the ball once or twice every play.”
The outdoor game has grown in popularity, thanks to the success of the USA’s Olympic beach volleyball teams and the pro tours. It will continue to grow now that the NCAA has included it to the list of sports, meaning women can now receive scholarships to play what the NCAA refers to as “sand” volleyball.
And speaking of sand ...
“It’s not as easy to maneuver in as the floor,” Holbert said. “It’s a constant workout.”
“Great conditioning,” Cothron said.
And the sun and wind ...
“Always in your face,” Holbert said.
Last summer, Holbert played in beach volleyball events in Puerto Rico, Virginia Beach, Detroit and Hermosa Beach, Calif., as she pursues a college scholarship.
Youngs has trained with Cothron during the past two summers but has never played a sanctioned beach volleyball tournament. Still, she managed to land a spot on the junior varsity volleyball team at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn., where she will be a freshman this fall. Youngs said her hours under the sun helped her improve her game enough to continue her career in college.
“It’s a lot harder than the indoor game,” Youngs said. “But it was definitely a benefit.”