After several weeks of sand practice, going three days a week with a break for finals and spring break, the Huskies are getting set to gauge their progress in the new sport with some match play. Washington will host an intrasquad match this Saturday at Golden Gardens at 10:30 a.m. and next Saturday they will be at the Courts at Eastmoreland in Portland for their official debut. Kaleigh Nelson and Katy Beals each talked with GoHuskies.com about the progress the team has made and the challenges and excitement of the new sport.
What are your main impressions of the sport so far? Do you enjoy it? What’s hard about it? What’s fun about it?
Kaleigh Nelson: Personally, I like sand a lot. At first it was really hard because it’s a much different game than the indoor game. There are only two people on the court instead of six. So you have a lot more responsibility, because it’s just you and your partner out there. You’ve really got to talk more, and you have to make a lot more plays.
I think the hardest part for me was just learning the beach game. It’s more about ball control and things like that. And coming from being mainly a front-row hitter this last year, and having to go play defense and pass and set, it was a lot harder.
Katy Beals: I think I’m enjoying being outside and learning something different than what we’re used to. From the start of beach we weren’t very good but I think we’ve all made some really great improvements. Everyone has gotten better and just learning a new sport is really cool. The toughest thing for me, personally, is serve-receive, because I’ve never had to do that before. Also, just getting used to moving in the sand, it’s kind of tough when you feel like you can’t jump as high as you would be able to indoor. Just being able to get your feet underneath you is the toughest part about it.
How much had you ever played in your life of sand?
Katy Beals: I’ve never played it, so all this was a shock. I was like, ‘Oh there’s actual strategy?’ Well I knew there was strategy but I didn’t realize how in-depth it got. I’d only maybe played one or two times, but playing six-on-six, so it wasn’t anything like this.
Kaleigh Nelson: I had only every really played recreationally with friends over the summer. I think I played in one tournament and got beat pretty handily. I had never played competitively and I had never been coached on the beach ever. So it was definitely a new experience.
Where have you seen the most improvement during these practice weeks?
Kaleigh Nelson: I think I’m getting better at mostly being a better teammate. It’s really easy to get frustrated in beach game because one of you is going to get the serve. If you’re not doing so hot, there are no subs, and nobody to go in for you, so it’s really easy to get frustrated, and then all of a sudden you’re not a good partner. I think I’ve learned to stay move positive with my partner, and you end up playing better and then it is easier to get out of ruts.
Katy Beals: Just knowing what shots to use and when. Before I would just go up and try to rip it, because as a setter you always want to be able to hit indoors. So knowing when to use short shots as opposed to ripping it deep, just knowing the different situations and reading the block.
What’s the one-on-one dynamic like working with your teammate? Is it fun playing with players you don’t usually have to work with as closely?
Katy Beals: It’s different, each game you kind of have to get used to your partners strengths and weaknesses. Like whenever Justice and I play together we say, ‘Okay, we won’t be able to hit that hard but we can serve them off the court!’ Just knowing what our personal strengths are and how to utilize them I think is cool about it, because you don’t get used to one partner. When you’re working with one partner, you constantly have to talk, it forces you to or else you’re not going to know what to do. So for me, at least, it’s been nice because I’ve been able to kind of, not open up, but just have a constant communication that I need to have indoors as well.
Kaleigh Nelson: It’s a lot of fun to work one on one with people. I think you learn more about each player individually getting to spend more time with them. We’ve all learned a lot about Kim…she’s probably the best beach partner out there because she has the best attitude and probably the best ball control. Beach is not necessarily where the biggest player is going to be the best player. You can be like Kim, and be smaller but still be the best player out there.
Is there one thing that really surprised you, or that you hadn’t thought about or something a good beach team really needs to do?
Kaleigh Nelson: The second contact is the most important contact in beach. Like how you’re going to set your partner. Because even if you get a bed pass you can do a good set out of it. And in the sand, it’s a lot harder to move around, so it’s really hard to adjust to a not really great set. Versus indoor, you can make up for it with your physical ability. But outdoors, it’s very much exposed. If you have a bad set, it’s not going to be good.
Katy Beals: I didn’t realize how important it was to set the ball straight up and down in beach. If you push it out, wind can be a factor, so that surprised me. You need to be able to read the hitters a lot, because with only two people on the court you have to make an early read. The wind is a tough factor, because indoors you obviously don’t expect the ball to move at all.
How much are you looking forward to actually playing some matches?
Kaleigh Nelson: I am really excited to finally put what we’ve been learning to the test. I’ve watched us start out pretty shaky, and each person has gotten better, and you can see that over the course of the past couple of weeks. I think we’re starting to finally look like beach volleyball players. Whereas, before when we came in, we definitely looked still like indoor players… Just fish out of water in the sand.
Katy Beals: From the beginning we knew it was kind of a trial and error year. We knew we weren’t going to be able to compete too much, so there’s less pressure I guess, which is better for newbies, because I think there is a big learning curve. But we’re excited to play here this weekend and we’re ready to go down to Portland and kick butt.