SEATTLE – A short trip south down I-5 past the Space Needle with the 12th-Man flag flying and the Husky volleyball team found an oasis of sorts in the Georgetown neighborhood. A new brand of Washington volleyball began this afternoon with the first official sand volleyball practice. Sand volleyball begins this spring as the 22nd varsity sport at Washington.
All eleven Huskies with remaining eligibility from the indoor roster will be playing on the sand this spring. The four graduating seniors from the fall will not compete. Sand volleyball Head Coach Keegan Cook led the first practice today at Sandbox Sports, an indoor volleyball facility in the Georgetown neighborhood near Boeing Field. Jim McLaughlin, Director of Volleyball and head coach of the indoor team, also provided some insight, but it was Cook walking the Huskies through their first ever sand drills.
Cook, coming off his first fall as an assistant coach with the indoor team, laid out a few of the principles as the Huskies dip their toes into the sand.
“Before today we talked about the goals of the program for this year, and the areas that we want to be really good in,” said Cook. “The first is becoming better communicators, another is taking care of every contact, and the third is learning how to learn. They’re getting an opportunity to learn a lot of new concepts and they need to become better learners.”
In today’s first practice, the team worked on a series of skills and adjusted to the different speeds. Passing drills came first, with the slower movement on the sand requiring more leaning and reaching than the players are used to indoors. Players worked on turning and passing a ball over their heads on the run, and worked on proper locations for passes.
On the sand, everyone has to set the ball, so the Huskies spent some time working on setting the ball in a way that would lead their partner. Before some serving drills, Coach Cook said how many of the techniques that made Washington one of the top serving teams in the NCAA in the fall would still apply, but serving short and long to mix things up would be more important.
“We are starting off with a lot of individual skills,” said Cook. “Today was just some serving, passing and setting, kind of the non-scoring skills. Then we’ll start talking about offense and defense, and then we’ll get to a couple simple systems. But serving, passing, and setting will be a huge emphasis throughout the twenty days.”
What was often a loose and upbeat practice, as the players shared some laughs over beginner’s mistakes, became more and more competitive towards the end when the team split into two sides and rotated through some point play in pairs of two.
“It didn’t take them long to shift form the learning phase to the competing phase, and they were getting after it by the end of that second hour,” said Cook, who was pleasantly surprised by the instincts of a few of the players. “There were a lot of pleasant surprises. I think our players were downplaying their skill a little bit. They did great; their energy and their focus and their willingness to learn some new concepts was great today.”
Washington has twenty practice dates scheduled for sand volleyball this year; three per week for the next five weeks and five more following a break. As the weather warms up, the Huskies will look to practice outside at several venues around the city, including Alki Beach and Golden Gardens.
“Getting outside and actually playing with the elements, that’s a big piece,” said Cook.
Plans for a local exhibition are still in the works, and UW’s first official competition date should be announced shortly.