By: Josh Brannock, Sports Editor
Over a year of work on the sand paid off March 9 when the UNF sand volleyball team took on crosstown rival Jacksonville University in the first NCAA Division I sand volleyball match in UNF history.
UNF won its first match 4-1 over the Dolphins, and the team of Carolyn Jenkins and Emily Strack will be remembered as the first team in UNF history to score a match point.
Since that meeting of the two rivals, the Ospreys have competed in two tournaments and one duals meet.
The team held the UNF Sand Invitational March 31-April 1. Consisting of seven schools and a total of 35 pairs, the tournament is one of the largest college sand volleyball will see this year. Some of the schools came from within the state, JU and Florida State University, and one came from the middle of the Pacific, the University of Hawaii.
As of May 31, 2011, the AVCA listed just 44 schools that had announced they would participate in sand volleyball in the 2012 season. There are 346 institutions that participate in Division I athletics.
So if only 44 schools, some of which are outside Division I, take advantage of the new program, why did people fight for it?
For University of Hawaii volleyball player Ginger Long it meant a change in the culture of volleyball.
“In Hawaii, there’s really no solid place to play beach — there’s no courts that are set up all of the time,” Long said as she took a break between games at the invitational. “I know that will change, and hopefully it’ll change around the country as more schools pick up the program.”
At UNF, it has become a way to practice in higher resistance, develop a better relationship between players and enhance the school’s name.
“You see the court more, you learn ball control. It’s a lot more physical cause you’re in the sand; it’s a lot harder to move and jump,” Cameron McGuire said. “When you go back indoors, you’re quicker and can jump higher.”
“It is a little different than indoor volleyball, and it gives us a chance to continue playing,” said Carolyn Jenkins. “We can see different teams, see different things and grow as a program and collaboratively grow our athletics.”
Coach Steve Loeswick feels the new program will provide more opportunities for players to continue playing at a higher level, and it will bring in spectators because it’s at the beach.
“It’s a great opportunity for our school because we don’t have a football team, and we’re one of the only Florida schools to have the program,” said Julie Trembley.
In the U.S., sand volleyball is a sport that people typically become involved in every four years at the summer Olympics. The U.S. has some of the best pairs in the world, but the largest professional sand volleyball association in the country, the Association of Volleyball Professionals, went under two years ago.
The AVP announced April 2 Donald Sun and the AOS group had bought it out. Some believe the sand program growing at the college level is critical to the regrowth of professional sand volleyball.
“It’s a huge addition because our biggest problem over the years has been accessibility,” Hans Stolfus of the AVP said. “You’ve never had this accessibility to play before if you live in Nebraska, Iowa or Ohio. It gives people a reason to play, especially when they’re younger.”
Stolfus was on the lobbying committee that fought for the program to be recognized by the NCAA. Stolfus said he and the rest of the committee have been working on this initiative for nine years. He said he feels with the new college programs around the country, the pro sport will get what it needs: fans.
In Hawaii, a lot of people view the university as their pro sports team, and with sand volleyball now being played at the school, a lot of the younger generation will see the sport and will want to be a part of it in the future, Long said.
UNF will finish its inaugural season with the Atlantic Sun Championship April 20-22 in Jacksonville. There are five teams in the A-Sun that have a sand volleyball program: UNF, Mercer University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Stetson University and JU.
Email Josh Brannock at [email protected]