Now that the state tournament for sand volleyball wrapped up this week, a couple of things have become apparent in Arizona’s effort to become the pioneer for instituting the sport at the high school level.
The ease with which Xavier Prep rolled through the tournament to capture its second straight title illustrates how far the other schools involved in establishing a prep program have to go to become competitive. The Gators swept Scottsdale Prep in the semi-finals and then did the same to Fountain Hills High School in the championship games.
Xavier fields five teams in the sport and all won their championship matches in just two sets, generally by large margins. The two-person teams included: Natalie Braun and Claire Coppola, Claudia Lemieux and Sara Macey, Molly Scheel and Kristen Cargay, Callie Jones and Mallory Miller, and Keely Komer and Kate Even.
And it was the same story last year, when the same two teams came down to duking it out for the championship. Xavier coasted to a 5-0 win for the first-ever title in sand volleyball.
The small Catholic school in central Phoenix should be expected to do well in the new sport. The Gators have been a major player in the indoor game for years. This year they were the No. 3-seeded team in the state tourney and knocked off No. 2 Hamilton High in the semis before losing in the finals to No. 1 Horizon High School.
They just took some of that talent, added a few new players, and moved over to the sand court.
But there needs to be some meaningful competition injected into the sport soon, or the significance of a state title will mean little.
There also needs to be more teams in the field. This year the number of schools participating nearly doubled from last year’s inaugural season – but the list is still just eight teams long. Five schools jumped in to kick off things off last year.
And that’s important because this is still a pilot program, hoping to become successful enough to be considered by the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) for inclusion as a permanent varsity sport.
A field of eight doesn’t provide the representation needed to show its worth. There are 271 high schools that have membership in the AIA. Do the math.
And more is riding on the outcome than just validation in the state of Arizona. This is being watched by high schools across the nation, as other states consider following Arizona’s lead.
For what it’s worth, the high school movement in this state may have encouraged adoption of the sport at the college level. Last August, Grand Canyon University announced it would be adding sand volleyball to its list of athletic offerings, and then in January of this year University of Arizona became the state’s first Division I school to announce it will join the movement next spring. (GCU is a D-II school, but is moving up to D-I next year.)
The Wildcats join with four other Pac-12 schools that are fielding sand volleyball teams – all, not surprisingly, from California, the mecca of beach volleyball.
The college game is also very new, just finishing up its second season at schools across the country. Fifteen teams were in the fold the first season and about double that number have signed on since.
And the high school program needs to keep doubling as well if it wants to survive. Right now, the participating schools are clustered around the metro Phoenix area. But there are some indications that some of the Tucson-area schools may be joining for the next season.
The sport is a low-cost commitment that provides additional opportunities for girls to participate at the high school level. And as the sport expands to more schools at the college level, it should also mean additional scholarship opportunities.
Let’s hope more schools don’t sit on the sidelines too long. The window of opportunity is open now.