WCC making waves with fast-growing beach volleyball

Jeff Golden
Students at Pepperdine play on the beach. Seven out of 10 teams in the WCC have implemented beach volleyball programs. (Jeff Golden)

As beach volleyball continues to grow not only in the West Coast Conference but also in Utah, BYU will have to decide if it wants to implement the sport.

Seven of the 10 WCC teams have beach programs. BYU, Gonzaga and San Diego do not have teams.

“As an athletic administration, we continue to monitor and review emerging NCAA sports,” said BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe. “There are a lot of factors and complex issues to consider, and at this point, there’s not a plan to expand the number of intercollegiate athletic sports at BYU.”

USA Olympians Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor cemented their legacy by winning their third gold medal in beach volleyball at the 2012 Olympics.

“I loved watching Kerri Walsh and Misty May play,” said BYU women’s volleyball player McKenna Miller. “Their love and passion for the game made me want to play sand too. They are incredible to watch.”

Beach volleyball became a Division II sport in 2010 and a Division I sport in 2011.

“I was super excited when I first found out,” said Miller, who is from southern California. “I love playing beach and so do a lot of my friends.”

The WCC has pounced on the opportunity for beach volleyball programs. Pepperdine University is currently No. 3 in the nation.

Nina Matthies, coach of Pepperdine’s beach volleyball team, spent more than 25 years as coach of Pepperdine’s women’s indoor team, then retired in 2013 and took the challenge as coach of the newly implemented beach volleyball team.

“When it was first being tossed around, I didn’t see how they were going to do it,” Matthies said.  “I didn’t understand how they were going to play doubles. It seemed stupid to me. Then in 2010, they said ‘Nina you need to step up. We need you,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I know I do.'”

Matthies said she believes dedication and commitment to the sport will ensure Pepperdine stays on top of the national rankings for years to come.

“We’re small schools in the WCC, so we had to get in early and start, instead of getting behind all the big schools,” Matthies said. “But I think we can win a national championship.”

The University of Utah has also implemented their own beach program, thanks in large part to Utah coach Beth Launiere.

“Beth was one of the original backers of getting beach volleyball as a NCAA sport,” said Utah beach volleyball coach JJ Van Niel. “It’s always been on her mind. Our administration was supportive, and we were lucky enough to get it implemented.”

Utah competes in beach volleyball with its athletes from the indoor team. This is similar to indoor and outdoor track events, where athletes may compete in both or just one.

Pepperdine has six scholarships exclusively for beach volleyball players. Only two athletes on the beach roster train and compete on both indoor and outdoor teams.

Indoor volleyball and beach volleyball require very different athletes. Matthies said she believes within the next few years there will be very few athletes competing in both sports.

“For now, we need teams to do the crossover,” Matthies said. “We need bodies. We need teams playing. We need people to say this is a really cool sport, and we need athletes to push and say ‘Hey, we want this.'”

Regardless of the outcome of beach volleyball, the growth and prominence as a women’s sport has given many amazing opportunities to young girls hoping to play a college sport.

“I think beach volleyball and just volleyball in general is such a showcase for women athletes,” Matthies said. “It just shows what we can do. We can jump, we’re fast, we’re quick on our feet.”

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