Freshman Taylor Gruenwald (above) and the rest of the Cal Poly indoor volleyball team will open the program’s first-ever sand volleyball season on April 4.
[follow id = “CPMustangSports”]
Cal Poly, a school synonymous with the beautiful beaches on the Central Coast, will soon see a historic merger between the sand and one of the school’s prominent athletic teams.
This spring will mark the inaugural season for the Cal Poly sand volleyball program. The team, which will be made up of players from the women’s indoor volleyball squad, will compete against familiar Big West foes such as Hawaii and Long Beach State, as well as powerhouses USC and Arizona. The fledgling league will be supported by the American Volleyball Coaches Association while the sport hopes to gain NCAA championship status as soon as 2015.
Head coach Sam Crosson, who also heads the women’s indoor team, is keeping expectations for the team’s first season realistic.
“Improvement on a daily and weekly basis, being competitive, and playing to win,” he said. “Whatever our record ends up being is what our record will be in year one. At the moment, I have little expectations other than those three things. We just need to go out there and play as hard we can.”
Of course, as freshman Lauren Pluim said, there will be a significant adjustment period, as the beach format sparsely resembles its indoor counterpart.
“It is a lot different because it is only two people on each team instead of the six … the weather is a huge aspect, and then sand just makes everything slower,” Pluim said.
In sand volleyball, each team sends out five pairs to compete in five separate matches. Each pair then plays a best-of-three match where teams play to 21 in the first two sets and 15 in the third. Though the limited format could prove problematic, according to senior Jennifer Keddy, it will be the sand that poses the biggest obstacle for the Mustangs in their first season.
“You can’t move as fast,” she said. “You can’t jump as high and it is so uneven. It takes time to learn how to move. You have to pick your feet up really fast. Its completely different.”
While Keddy, a Montana native, might not have a lot of experience in the sand, she is more than eager to compete in what will be her last athletic season at Cal Poly.
“I missed two seasons from being injured, so I am just really happy to play volleyball again. I really enjoy beach volleyball,” Keddy said.
Keddy’s excitement to participate in the new sport seems to be shared by the whole team. Though it will be a new experience for many, the players are happy they get to play the sport they love one more season out of the year.
Given the school’s proximity to elite West Coast sand volleyball talent, Crosson has his eyes on the future of what could potentially be a vastly competitive and popular sport in San Luis Obispo.
“Part of what recruits look for is whether or not a school has a sand program … We recruit a lot of kids out of California for our indoor team, and those girls are all growing up playing on the beach as well,” Crosson said.
While Cal Poly will not host any matches on this year’s schedule, Crosson is hopeful the Mustangs could call one of the area’s most scenic beach destinations home in seasons to come.
“We are looking to have our home matches at Pismo Beach … In the future we could even be looking at having the national championships at Pismo,” he said.
For now, the Mustangs will have to settle for Sacramento. The team gets its season underway in the state capital when they take on Boise State on Friday, April 4.