GCU becomes one of first colleges with sand volleyball

Spurred on by this summer’s Olympics and the accompanying national television exposure, the beach volleyball phenomenon continues to spread across Arizona, first into the high schools and now the college game.

In the schools, it’s called sand volleyball, but the game is the same.

Grand Canyon University, a Division II school in west Phoenix, just announced the addition of sand volleyball to its athletic offerings for women, bringing the school’s number of NCAA teams to 22.

Last year, Arizona became the first state in the nation to test the idea of installing sand volleyball as a recognized high school varsity sport and began by creating a program that played once a week at the Victory Lane Sports Park in Glendale.  It’s hoped that success here will encourage other states to follow.

Organizers optimistically put together a prototype that could accommodate 32 prep teams – but drew just five schools for the inaugural season.

At the college level, sand volleyball began a year ago this month and has attracted over 20 teams from around the country.  The American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) is directing the program toward a total of 40 participating schools, at which time the sport will move from the ‘Emerging Sports’ list to full NCAA sponsorship.

Grand Canyon’s head volleyball coach, Kris Naber, will direct the new program, while still maintaining her indoor volleyball program, which she has been coaching for the past 18 years.  Her assistant, Whitney Estes, will take the lead on the sand volleyball program.

“Sand volleyball is an up-and-coming sport in the NCAA and we are thrilled for its inclusion at GCU,” said Naber.  “As we saw with the just-completed Olympic Games, the sport has exploded in popularity, on both the national and international level.  I’m excited to place GCU on the same national footing as schools like USC, Pepperdine, and Long Beach State.”

That association with recognized national program is one of the benefits pointed out by the school’s athletic director, Keith Baker, who also feels sand volleyball will provide a good competitive environment on a regional basis.

“We believe this will be a great gathering point and and environment on campus,” said Baker in noting the opportunity for the school to showcase its new athletic facilities that include a 5,000-seat arena.

The program will begin this spring, but the schedule has not been completed yet.

Sand volleyball will be a great addition to the GCU sports line-up, but for those fans anticipating anything closely resembling the skimpy attire found in beach volleyball, they will be disappointed.

That’s not likely to happen at this Christian-based college.