Sand Volleyball Starting In Arizona

March 22, 2012 / Volleyball
The Republic, Richard Obert

They show up about 45 minutes before match time. Some come in caravans. Some in a bus. Some on their own.

But they find a way to get to Victory Lane Sports Complex in Glendale every Tuesday afternoon to play a sport that Arizona high school players became the first in the country to play this school year.

It’s sand volleyball.

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“One of the kids said we’re one of the pioneers of this sport in the nation, and it’s true,” said Sister Lynn Winsor, Phoenix Xavier Prep’s athletic director. “We’re thrilled. It’s really great fun.”

Five schools — Surprise Valley Vista, Scottsdale Prep, Xavier, Phoenix Westwind Prep and Fountain Hills — compete in it. One school gets a bye each week. They put on sunglasses and, bare feet, they hit the sandy volleyball courts, four of which are spread out, with a water park in the background.

This particular March day feels like a San Diego beach with sunny skies and temperatures in the high 60s. But the wind is gusting and it’s creating havoc on serves.

Twice, a Valley Vista girl tries to return a strong serve delivered by Fountain Hills, only to miss. Both times the ball sails out of bounds.

“I would just be doing club volleyball,” Fountain Hills senior Tia Kannapel said. “Now I double it up.”

Originally, 15 schools in Arizona showed interest in fielding sand volleyball teams this year. But because of travel constraints and budget, only five added the spring sport that began play in late February.

“It’s going to go over big next year when the other schools get their budgets,” said Winsor. “This year, it started kind of in the middle, so many schools just didn’t have the money.”

All of the matches are held at Victory Lane, where the owner donated court time and balls to help get the sport moving in a positive direction under the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Many of the players compete year-round on club and high school indoor teams. But this is a nice diversion for most, who want to get outside and enjoy Arizona’s weather this time of year.

So far it hasn’t gotten so hot that the sand is unbearable on their feet. But if it does, there are cooling devices at the park that keeps their feet protected.

This is new for Fountain Hills coach Mandy Baca, who has a full squad of 12 players — five sets of two and two alternates. She said the interest level was good enough that she had to end up cutting two players.

At Xavier, 22 girls tried out, with 15 making the team. It has 12 players and three managers.

Scoring is to 21, and the matches can go quickly.

“There’s a few rules that are a little different,” Baca said. “You can run into the net as long as you’re not obstructing the other player’s attempt at the ball. You can just clobber the net. And obviously you’re covering the court with two players and not six. But there is less space to cover.”

It is kind of like doubles tennis, where two-girl teams are seeded. Not every school has enough players to field five pairs.

But, in the inaugural year, there won’t be a state tournament held. There will just be matches each week until in ends next month. Officials have been trained to work the games.

Fountain Hills, which has yet to lose, goes to a nearby park that has sand volleyball courts to practice.

This is fun for girls who are involved in high-pressure club volleyball.

“It’s a good switch-up,” Baca said. “They have the basic skills to do this.”

It’s not as easy as it looks.

The girls at first felt like they were playing in quicksand. They had to adjust to not being able to get to the ball as quickly as they would on a hardwood floor.

“On the indoor court, you can move a lot better,” said Kannapel, who started on last fall’s indoor volleyball team at Fountain Hills that won 23 games. “You come here, and you feel a lot slower. You’re not jumping as high. Hitting is different.”

Even though there is no championship at the end of this season, Kannapel, whose playing partner is senior Dominique Gil, finds the excitement and challenge.

“This is something that nobody has ever gotten a chance to do,” she said. “Even though everything is still a little crazy, it’s great to be among the first to do it.”

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