Sand is Their Castle: Beach Volleyball Sees Huge Growth

(TVT Junior Beach athlete, Jade Henderson competing in an AVP Next Qualifier at Sideliners in San Antonio. Original Article in San Antono Express-News)

There are probably a million ways for a teenager to enjoy spending a weekend during the summer. Waking up at the crack of dawn, enduring 95-degree temperatures and having your hair and body caked in sand and your feet blistered by a scorching playing surface likely aren’t among them.

But love makes one do some weird things. And when it comes to playing beach volleyball, Brandeis High School graduate & TVT Junior Beach athlete Jade Henderson has a head-over-heels infatuation.

“You get used to it after a little while,” Henderson, who will attend TCU in the fall and plans to play beach volleyball there, said of the elements. “In Texas, it gets pretty hot. But I just fell in love with sand (volleyball). A lot of girls are starting to do that now, I find.”

Beach volleyball is the NCAA’s fastest-growing sport, climbing from 16 schools with programs in 2012 to an estimated 50 this upcoming year. TCU, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Houston Baptist are the only Texas schools with programs.

UTSA, Incarnate Word, St. Mary’s and Trinity don’t have beach programs, but St. Mary’s did send teams to compete in the Heartland Conference sand tournament the last three seasons, winning the championship in 2013. Officials at all four local universities said there are no plans to add beach volleyball, but it might be considered in the future.

Texas A&M-Kingsville, which competes in Division II’s Lone Star Conference, has discussed adding beach volleyball in 2017. The Southland Conference has three schools playing the sport and would consider sponsoring beach volleyball if at least half of its schools had programs, said Jenny McGhee, the conference’s associate commissioner.

The NCAA will crown national champions in Divisions I, II and III for the first time next spring after beach volleyball spent the past three seasons as an “emerging sport.” An emerging sport is sanctioned by the NCAA but doesn’t compete for a national championship. At least 40 schools have to field teams for two straight years for a sport to be eligible for championship status.

“It’s huge because girls, they have an opportunity to go to college for sand volleyball now,” said Hannah Hood, who just concluded her playing career at Texas A&M. Hood, who was a standout at state power Austin Westlake, teamed with New Braunfels graduate Angela Lowak, who will be a senior outside hitter this fall at Texas A&M, to finish third in the women’s division July 11 in Texas Volleyball Tour’s AVP Next tournament at Sideliners Grill.

“I think it’s refreshing to be outside,” Hood added. “It’s addictive. It’s laid-back, but it’s also really competitive. You can tell more people are catching on. It’s going to keep growing.”

And there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight for that growth. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, almost 500,000 women between the ages of 13 and 25 have started playing beach volleyball since 2007 — an 85 percent increase.

Arizona was the first state to offer the sport at the high school level in 2012. The University Interscholastic League, which governs extracurricular activities in Texas, rejected in October 2014 a proposal to add sand volleyball. The organization usually looks at the number of schools participating in an activity before considering adding it by a vote of the 32-member Legislative Council, UIL media coordinator Kate Hector said.

“I think (players) just find sand volleyball more fun than indoor,” Henderson said. “You get more touches on the ball, it’s only you and your partner, you get to be on the beach. You get to be an all-around player. You don’t have to be just one specific position.”

Jennings, May-Treanor Impact

Beach volleyball traditionally has been viewed as an event played for fun on the weekend or in the backyard at family gatherings. But the narrative changed at the beginning of the millennium thanks to the success of Americans Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor.

Jennings and May-Treanor are considered the greatest beach volleyball team of all time, winning three consecutive Olympic gold medals (2004, 2008 and 2012). The duo won 21 straight matches during the Olympics, losing only one set. At one point, they won 112 matches and 19 tournaments in a row.

“Those two have done a phenomenal job and are amazing athletes,” said University of North Florida beach volleyball coach Samantha Dabbs, a Churchill graduate. “Everyone has seen them, and even if you don’t know anything about beach volleyball, you know their names.”

May-Treanor retired from competition after the 2012 Olympics, while Jennings, 36, has teamed up with April Ross in a bid to win her fourth straight gold medal in 2016. With May-Treanor no longer playing, and Jennings likely to follow suit, the search to find their successors has begun.

The Next Generation

Smithson Valley sophomore Abigail Paige Carter loves indoor volleyball.

But as a 5-foot-9 outside hitter, she knows her playing future likely is going to be on the beach. Indoor volleyball has increasingly become more about who is the biggest and strongest, with players taller than 6 feet becoming the norm.

“In beach, there’s a lot more room for us smaller players,” said Carter, who along with teammate Gabriela Sandoval earned a bid to compete in the West Coast Junior Olympics for beach volleyball at the end of this month in Hermosa Beach, California. “That’s something I appreciate about beach.”

Even longtime indoor players have caught the beach volleyball bug.

Ashley Liford, a former standout at Madison who played collegiately at Memphis and then professionally in Europe, has played indoors for the past 17 years. Three years ago, she played in her first beach tournament. She won her division in that event in Austin. Liford teamed with Tania Lyerly to win the women’s intermediate division last weekend in Texas Volleyball Tour’s San Antonio stop at Sideliners Grill.

“I was like, ‘Oh, this is really fun,’” Liford said. “I wish they had (beach volleyball) when I was playing juniors, because I would have loved to train in the summer in the sand. It does improve your indoor game. It was an adult thing (back then). Now that there are scholarships available, more kids are getting into it — which I think is good.”

Hood, who played on Austin Westlake‘s 2008 and 2009 UIL Class 5A (now 6A) state finalist teams, agreed.

“I played indoor (in college) for four years, and now all I want to do is play sand,” Hood said. “It’s definitely a way to use a skill you’ve spent so much time developing and you just don’t let it go to waste. You can still use it either to stay in shape, meet people, or compete at a high level. Even if you play for fun, there’s a lot of opportunities.”

2015 TVT Rules

The 2015 Texas Volleyball Tour will abide by the rules used on the 2015 AVP Tour for all divisions.  All rules are current USAV Rules except for the new net touch rule that was approved by the FIVB in November 2014.  The approved change states that contact with the net by a player between the antennae, during the action of playing the ball, is now a fault.  The previous rule allowed contact with the net by a player so far as it didn’t interfere with play.

Server is permitted one toss or release of the ball per service attempt.  Moving the ball in the hands is permitted.  Server must be in (or jump from within) the 8m width of the court.  The server may not step on or under the baseline prior to contact of serve.  Movement of the line by pressed sand is not a fault.  Make sure players take turns serving.  Inform players if wrong person serves.  If wrong person serves, stop & replay with correct server (if point is scored, point will stand, make sure the correct person serves next).

A player of the serving team must not prevent an opponent, through individual screening, from seeing the server and the flight path of the ball.  Receiving team should raise a hand to indicate that a screen exists.  Serving team must alter positions if requested to avoid screen.

The ball is IN when it physically touches the line, or the court within the lines.  (In beach volleyball the lines move, and are effected by the weather and condition of the sand. Care should be taken to straighten the lines.)  The ball is OUT when it:  falls on the ground completely outside the lines (without touching them); touches an object outside the court, or a person out of play; touches the antennae, net support structure, or the net itself outside the antennae; crosses completely the lower space under the net or crosses the vertical plane of the net either partially or totally outside the antennae during service or after a team’s third hit.

A team gets 3 hits.  A BLOCK COUNTS AS A HIT.  Simultaneous contact by teammates is counted as TWO team hits.  The ball must be hit or rebound from the hit, it may not be caught or thrown.  TIPS ARE ILLEGAL.  Simultaneous contact by opponents (joust) is legal, even if momentarily held.   Both teams retain the right to three hits after a joust.  Players may not take support from a person or object in order to play the ball.  When competition is scheduled or is occurring on adjacent courts, it is a fault for a player to enter the adjacent court(s) to play a ball or after playing a ball.  The free zone, including the service zone on an adjacent court is a playing area.

During the team’s first contact it is legal for the ball to strike two or more parts of a defenders’ body during a single action to play the ball. In Beach Volleyball, however, there are exceptions that come into play: (1) Double contact with overhand finger action is NOT allowed unless; (2) the double-contact was in defense of a hard driven attack.  Served balls are not an attack-hit.

If a player DELIBERATELY uses open-hand finger-action to contact ANY ball, that contact must be judged as a set. (The hard driven ball is considered to move too fast for a deliberate decision to employ setting action… that’s why we don’t call the defender’s double if we declare a ball hard-driven).  In judging defensive actions involving finger action, the referee must evaluate: 1) Speed: Was the ball hit very hard?  2) Distance: How far did the ball travel? Thus: How much time was there? and ultimately;  3) Was the defensive play reactive in nature? Or 4) Did the defender decide to employ overhand setting action?   In the end the referee must come to a decision based on the guiding criteria to determine if the action will (or will not) be JUDGED AS A SET.

The hands must act together smoothly, or a double-hit should be called.  Spin is not a fault…but spin is an indicating factor of a possible fault.  Sets that visibly come to rest or are re-directed are held ball faults.  When a beach player uses a hand setting action to attack the opponent’s courts, it MUST be completed so that the trajectory of the ball is perpendicular to the line of their shoulders. 

Any contact that will send the ball to the opponents (except the serve) is an attack.  Attacks must take place within a team’s playing space… not on the opponent’s side.  Serves may not be attacked while still higher than the top of the net from anywhere on the court.

Open hand tipping is illegal.  To dink legally, all fingers in contact with the ball must be rigid and together.  Knuckles are exempted.

Setting the ball across to the opponent’s court with finger action is only legal if the setter’s body position is established and the set is made directly forward or directly behind that position (square to the attacker’s facing direction).  Setting the ball across to the opponent’s court while off-angle or pivoting and not setting a teammate should be called for an illegal attack.

A block is an action (close to the net and above the net) that attempts to intercept a ball coming from the opponent’s court.  The block DOES count as a first team contact.  EITHER player of the team may make the 2nd team contact.  Multiple contacts at the block are counted as only one hit.  Serves may not be blocked.

Teams may play the ball on their own side only (no reaching beyond the plane to bring back a set above the net).  Blocks on the opponent’s side may occur provided this action does not interfere with opponents play or after the execution of an attack hit.

Balls passing under the net, but still in the plane, may be played back.  Balls completely crossing under the net are out.

Contact with the net by a player between the antennae, during the action of playing the ball, is a fault.

Players may only contact the ball within their own playing-space (exception: blocking).  Setters/players may not reach beyond the vertical plane to retrieve the ball.  Attackers must only touch that part of the ball which is on their side of the net.  Follow-through across the plane of the net after the contact is legal.  Blockers may penetrate the plane over the net and block only after an attack hit.

There is no center line (literally) or in the sense of team possession.  Players may cross into the opponent’s area (generally during pursuit or during an attempt to save a ball in or under the net) as long as they do not interfere with the opponents.

If a player interferes with the opponents’ play, he/she must be called for the fault.  Signal interference by pointing with your index finger under the net (and verbalizing “interference”).  Note: Contact between opponents does not always constitute interference (bump knees, step briefly on toes, etc.) and interference can also occur without physical contact. (i.e. a fallen player under the net prevents defender from covering short).  Interference is a fault that results in a point, not a replay.  Referees must use broad awareness of many factors in judging interference.

Each team may call one 60 second time-out per set.  A 5 minute medical time-out may be called if an injury occurs.  A player may only receive a medical time-out once in a match.  Technical time-outs can be called during MATCHES ONLY and are conducted when a combined total of 21 point are scored in sets 1 and 2. It is administered just the same as a regular time-out.  There is not a technical time-out in the event of a 3rd set.

The maximum time between routine rallies should be 12 seconds.  Extra time (perhaps an extra 10 seconds) can be allowed after big rallies.  Teams who delay the flow of play are verbally asked to return to play.  If a team continues to delay the flow of play, they are sanctioned with a (yellow) DELAY WARNING and subsequent delays are sanctioned with a (red) DELAY PENALTY, which results in a point and service to the opponent.

The weather must not present any danger of injury to the players.  Inclement weather, equipment failure, or tournament issues can delay play.  If the delay is less than 4 hours, the match/game can resume from point of interruption (on any court).  Matches or games delayed longer than 4 hours must be replayed entirely.

Coaching, giving a player feedback, or any type of external assistance, is not permitted under any circumstances during play.  Players may receive coaching during time-outs off the court.  Parents and coaches are not allowed to address the referees or attempt to influence their decisions at any time.  Parents and coaches are not allowed to address the opposing team at any time.  An initial violation will result in a warning.  A second violation will result in a 5 point penalty.  A third violation will result in the team being disqualified from the tournament.