TCU volleyball adjusts to play in the sand

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Few student-athletes learn a new sport in their off-season, but at TCU, the indoor volleyball team is doing just that. 

Members of the inaugural sand volleyball team must physically adjust to playing on an entirely different surface while also learning the rules of the game.

And this is all for a season that lasts 10 days.

Starting on Friday, March 6, the Horned Frog sand volleyball team will compete in Arizona and California against some of the top programs in the country.

The team consists of all indoor volleyball players and one sand-only player. Over the last few weeks, head coach Erik Peterson has taught the indoor players the rules, technique and challenges of sand play.

“They’re still learning,” Peterson said. “It’s very different. They’re trying to understand how to move in the sand. They’re trying to understand how to cover more court. They’re trying to understand how to over-communicate.”

Aside from the differences of playing surface and number of competitors, sand volleyball varies from indoor in court size, scoring, ball type and types of touches allowed.

Where the court size of indoor volleyball must be 18 meters by 9 meters, a sand court must measure 16 meters by 8 meters, according to NCAA rules.

Peterson held a question and answer session with his players when he first came to campus to teach the team the rules of sand. He said the referees are much stricter than in indoor, so the women must work on their touches, especially the first touch off the serve.

“The biggest things are optimizing the contact and really being a little bit more deliberate with what you’re trying to do with the ball,” Peterson said.

While indoor volleyball is fast-paced, playing sand requires more patience.

“We try to get them to understand that it’s a lot slower game,” Peterson said. “It’s not so fast. They have to slow down their approach.”

With a slightly smaller court but a third of players to cover that area, playing in the sand becomes an intense cardiovascular workout. Each step and jump takes greater effort in the sand.

“Running in the sand is not like running on the court,” said junior Macy Capen. “I’m used to jumping on the court, and I don’t jump that high in the sand. It’s definitely a learning curve.”

Freshman Sarah Grantham may be the only player on the team with previous experience in sand volleyball, but she notes the need to prepare for a different playing surface.

“I think the training has increased a lot in the weight room because the sand is a lot more physically demanding,” Grantham said.

To condition the players for a new surface, the coach began training with specific movement drills. This helped the players learn to cover more ground and gain balance on the court.

“They’re working a lot of muscles they never knew they had before,” Peterson said. “Their toes are gripping to get them to move that they never had to do before being on the hard court.”

Peterson has focused largely on footwork in practices. In particular, a push-to-crossover step is key in managing the court with only two players on each side.

“[They have to] really focus on that first step,” Peterson said. “They still have a lot of their first step kind of as a shuffle, and out here in the sand the shuffle step doesn’t really get you anywhere. Your whole center of gravity hasn’t moved yet, which means you have more work to do late instead of getting the bulk of the work done early.”

So how will a team made up largely of players who learned the sport in the last month match up against No. 1 Pepperdine and No. 2 USC?

“We have almost a chip on our shoulder,” Peterson said. “Being the new kid on the block, it’s going to be a lot of David versus Goliath, especially going out to the West Coast.”

The Frogs will play 11 games over their 10-day trip against several ranked teams.

“For playing for two weeks, we’re doing a pretty good job,” Capen said.