Volleyball Players Dig Deep. In the Sand!
Located just a few blocks from the beach, Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School is building a growing co-ed beach volleyball program, the first of its kind at the prep level.
Both men and women players from the high school's indoor program are taking to the sand to practice and play at summertime club tournaments throughout California.
"Playing sand makes indoor better and easier," said Kobi Allston, an incoming freshman from San Leandro. "I love playing sand."
Sure, it's a great workout and it can improve a player's indoor game, but the real allure for the high school players? It's summer, there's a beach, volleyball's fun and it's co-ed.
"We have a beach team, we practice in the sand at Alameda Beach, and our girls and boys go and play in NCVA sand tournaments," said SJND volleyball coach Eddie Chen, who would like to get other schools involved. "It's all about the volleyball and having fun."
Kobi is one of two young SJND players who qualified for the USA Volleyball Beach High Performance Championship tournament in Hermosa Beach in July. Emma Doud, a sophomore from Alameda, also went.
Emma said she was surprised by how competitive beach volleyball is in Southern California.
"I think it's really fun, and I also think it's really humbled me," she said. "I talked to a lot of girls we played in the championships, and some of these girls have been playing since 5th grade, and I just started this year."
Emma said she's excited to keep playing and to keep getting better.
"I think it helps on your vertical jump, and it also makes it easier to jump indoors," she said. "I really enjoy it. I always like trying something new."
Both Kobi and Emma,as well as the other players, may have bright futures in beach volleyball. The NCAA recognized beach volleyball as a women's collegiate sport two years ago, and that, combined with some amazing beach games in last summer's Olympics, has made the sport popular with high school players.
At the high school level, though, there aren't any schools that currently host teams, Chen said. At SJND, beach volleyball is a club sport and the boys and girls travel to Saratoga, home of beach star Kerri Walsh Jennings, and elsewhere to play in tournaments.
"Volleyball's pretty unique," said Chen. "Recreationally, there are co-ed teams. It's always nice that the boys and girls teams can both participate in it, and they seem to enjoy hanging out together."
Playing sand volleyball has its advantages, too, he said.
"Outdoors, they learn to be more adaptable, they cover the court with two players," said Chen. "The sand is a big work out. When they go indoors, they jump higher and they're faster."
Several players at SJND are looking at the possibility of trying to play volleyball in college, and they are all familiar with the NCAA's recognition of the new collegiate sport.
"Kids and their parents are talking about it, talking about getting scholarships to play beach volleyball," said Chen.
The University of Southern California and Pepperdine University are well-known for their beach volleyball programs and offer scholarships for the women to play. Stanford University, Cal, St. Mary's and University of San Francisco are adding beach programs, Chen said, although often players are coming from the indoor program at those schools.
"It's definitely growing," said Kobi, as she practiced recently --indoors-- in the Kelly Gym at a volleyball open gym. "Volleyball is volleyball. I like both, but with sand you just have to make sure you play smart."
Photos by SJND parent Tomas Pineda