‘Lopes Bring Beach to Campus in First Sand Volleyball Season
By Cooper Nelson
GCU News Bureau
The women’s volleyball team traded hardwood for sand this spring.
In the inaugural competitive sand volleyball season for the Antelopes, several returning players from GCU’s indoor playoff team solidified the 14-woman roster for the sand team. But in spite of multiple playoff runs over the past four seasons, the transition to sand has proved difficult.
GCU aims to win its first-ever sand matches Saturday when it hosts the University of Hawai’i and Loyola Marymount University as part of the Antelope Desert Classic home opener on the campus sand courts between the pool and intramural field. The ‘Lopes tip off at 11 a.m. against Hawai’i and play Loyola Marymount at 5 p.m.
GCU has five Top 10 teams on its schedule this season: Pepperdine (ranked No. 1), USC (No. 4), Hawai’i (No. 5), Florida International (No. 6) and Nebraska (No. 9). It already has lost to four of them.
“Not feeling that consistent success has been a big adjustment for (the players),” said Kris Naber, the women’s volleyball head coach, who coaches the team indoors and on sand.
GCU is currently the only NCAA Division II program among 30 sand volleyball programs recognized by American Volleyball Coaches Association, Naber said.
“You never go into a match thinking you’re going to lose, but we know the level of competition we’re going up against,” Naber said. “Right now it’s more difficult to beat experience.”
Most AVCA teams boast three years of experience and sand-only players who train consistently in the offseason. A number of teams also are located in coastal states and hold practices and games on beaches, introducing players to game-changing factors such as sun and wind. There is no substitute for training in sand, which restricts movement.
Sand volleyball games are played with two-player teams and include both dual matches and tournament formats. Each school fields five doubles teams ranked by ability, in a format much like tennis.
Doubles teams play the competitor’s corresponding doubles team based on rank. The team that captures three out of five sets wins the match. Play is in a best-of -three, rally-scoring format. The first two sets of each doubles match are played to 21 points. The third set, if necessary, is played to 15.
Senior Sara Bowden said the keys to her transition from indoor to sand are chemistry and mental focus.
“Sand volleyball is a completely different sport than indoor volleyball,” said Bowden, who has had the opportunity to play both indoor and sand in her last year of eligibility with GCU. “Sand is two-on-two, so chemistry with your partner is pivotal to your success.”
Bowden said she continues to see each match as an opportunity to learn and improve.
“My teammate Caelen Hiller reminded me that success is not measured by wins or losses, but by the experience and growth with our partner and team,” Bowden said.
“I think being able to play the top sand programs in the nation has allowed our sand program to gain experience and knowledge,” she said. “You can’t be the best until you play with the best.”
The Antelopes’ women’s volleyball team enjoyed success over the past four seasons, including three seasons with 20 or more wins and back-to-back trips to the Division II women’s volleyball tournament. They earned a No. 2 seed in this year’s West Regional before losing in the second round to Cal State San Bernardino.
Contact Cooper Nelson at 639.7511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.