By Richard Smith
West Valley Preps
Tucked away in the southeast corner of the sprawling Deer Valley High School was a bit of a sporting secret.
Now that the Skyhawks have a beach volleyball team, however, those three sand courts are an official athletic facility.
“We have a lot of girls that were interested in beach and we’ve had these sand courts here for 30 years sitting unused,” Deer Valley Coach Kathryn Coleman said. “I met with the athletic director and asked if we could start the beach program and he was very interested.”
Coach Coleman then learned that district schools Mountain Ridge were joining the Skyhawks and the pioneering O’Connor program on the beach, so to speak.
She credited athletic director Scott Warner with getting the sport off the ground. Mountain Ridge coach Kevin Schmitt said athletic director Junior Michael played a similar role on the district’s other Glendale campus.
Coach Schmitt heard about starting the program last spring. With Mountain Ridge’s success in indoor volleyball earlier this decade, the new coach was expecting a big turnout.
“I’m kind of surprised as far as our numbers. We had 15 girls come out. I thought there would be a lot more so I’m a little disappointed at that part,” Coach Schmitt said.
Conversely, Coach Coleman said 22 tried out for the Skyhawks squad. While most are experienced indoor players, few have played on sand except for fun.
“Most players are first year players in sand so it’s been nice to have an up and coming new program,” Deer Valley junior Annie Harte said.
Coach Schmitt also was surprised how few players on the team came in with sand volleyball experience. The Mountain Lions went through some early growing pains for that reason.
He said courts will be built on campus eventually. For now the Mountain Lions practice and play at Victory Lane Sports Complex in north Phoenix.
“It’s amazing how many decisions they have to make. They’re not used to that because indoors is pretty cut and dry what your role is,” Coach Schmitt said.
Senior Eleni Loizou, with competitive sand volleyball under her belt, was in from day one while her eventual partner Bianca Bozzano was on the fence.
“The vibe is a lot more relaxed and laid back. It’s a lot more fun. I love indoor too but here we’ll listen to music and have fun,” Loizou said.
Deer Valley junior Kendall Coleman agreed that the sport is not as intense as volleyball in the fall or — even more so — club volleyball.
She and several Skyhawks are able to balance this with club season, which Coach Coleman said by its nature is more pressure filled. But it is easier for a mistake to be exposed in sand volleyball.
“It’s a lot of fun but it’s a lot of pressure because it’s only you and one other person out there.” Kendall Coleman said.
Bozzano spent her indoor career as a defensive specialist while Loizou was a middle blocker.
Beach volleyball forces players to diversify their skill set. For Bozzano, that includes developing and repertoire of attacks.
“Me being shorter you have to be smarter on the court. So it’s easier in that aspect,” Bozzano said. “But it’s also harder because they’ll pick on me to serve to so I have to hit. I just have to get more consistent at hitting.”
Mountain Ridge’s top duo is already used to playing together from indoor games, but is developing their communication in the sand.
It may be a bit easier for Coleman and fellow junior Kaley Hosler, since these close friends were likely to be spending their spring hanging out anyway.
“It helped a lot being friends already. You learn a lot about the other person, talking to each other and finding out how we work together on the court,” Hosler said.
On the flip side, Harte has already had a different partner for each of the season’s three weeks. She said she’s still enjoying the new sport and the new skills she is learning.
Loizou will continue her career indoors at Dominican University in California next fall. She said she probably will not be a middle blocker forever and what she learns on the sand will serve her well at the next level.
“In sand a lot is about shots and playing smart instead of just swinging away at the ball like in indoor,” Loizou said. “You take an active role in every play.”
Bozzano does not plan on playing competitive volleyball again, but said she is happy she tried out and will finish the sport on a fun note.
“Playing indoor was getting kind of stressful and this is easier,” she said.
To Coach Coleman, more players will get on board as they see that beach volleyball can be a fun outlet that allows them to develop skills.
“It’s a learning curve on some of the rules. In our first match the girls were called on things they could do indoor, and learned very quickly that it’s not out here,” Coach Coleman said. “The courts are a bit shorter so that adjusts your game a little bit. The other nice thing is it’s an individual sport, just the two on two. It helps with communication and I think they’ll be better indoor players from doing this.”