ASU jumps on the sand volleyball bandwagon

Jason Watson, the head volleyball coach at Arizona State, has enjoyed considerable recruiting success these past couple of years, pulling in nationally-ranked recruiting classes in 2012 and 2013.

Now he needs to conjure up similar results for the school’s newest sport, sand volleyball.

That task will be a little more difficult, since University of Arizona is already out on the recruiting trail after committing to the sport six months ago, becoming the first Division I school in the state to jump on the sand volleyball bandwagon that is gaining momentum across the country.

That was six months after Grand Canyon University in Phoenix announced it was adding sand volleyball to its sports programs.  At the time, GCU was a Division II school, but the Antelopes will be moving up to D-I this coming school year – so, technically, it could be considered the first D-I school in the state to add it.

And there are four Pac-12 schools – California, USC, UCLA, and Stanford – that got an even bigger jump on gobbling up the talent.  They were the first in the conference to make the move to sand – not surprising for schools that reside in the mecca of beach volleyball.

But the real pioneers were the high schools.  Arizona became the first state in the nation to add sand volleyball at the high-school level and are slowly building a following among the AIA-member schools.  The 2013 season was the second, and nearly doubled the number of participating schools from the inaugural program in 2012.  However, that was still just eight teams.

If the pilot program becomes successful enough, it should encourage other schools around the country, which are watching Arizona’s progress, to start their own.

At the college level, schools began adding the sport in 2011, when the American Volleyball Coaches Association put together a program of 15 teams for a sport that is played in the spring.  The field had grown to 30 by last spring and may need only another year to get to the 40 D-I and D-II participating schools needed to trigger a national championship and full sponsorship by the NCAA.

Arizona State and Grand Canyon are getting their court volleyball head coaches to do a little double-duty, since the regular court season is in the fall.  Watson and Kris Naber at GCU will continue to direct the current volleyball programs, but will also take on the head-coaching responsibilities for the new sand volleyball programs.

David Rubio, the UofA head coach, was able to call on his associate head coach, Steve Walker, to take on the new program in Tucson.  Walker, it turns out, has spent several years playing in the sand.  In addition to playing volleyball at Long Beach State, he was a AAA-rated player who won numerous Arizona Beach Volleyball Association tournaments from 2003-2006.

For all three schools, this becomes their 22nd sport offering.

“It’s an exciting expansion for not only our current student-athletes, but those looking to join us in the near future,” said Watson at last week’s announcement of the addition of sand volleyball at ASU, pointing out that the administration has been very supportive of the move.

“Sand volleyball, and all it entails, provides another resource for our program to continue to develop and grow within the Pac-12 Conference and nation.”

The ASU athletic department reports that plans are underway for new sand courts to be built on campus, but already has a list of players signed up for tryouts as the inaugural season approaches in the spring of 2014.

ASU’s entry will leave just Northern Arizona University, nestled up in the high country of Flagstaff, as the only Division I college in the state without a sand volleyball program.

But it’s kind of hard anyway to wrap your head around the vision of beach volleyball in the snow.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)