It’s not just for the Olympics or the beach anymore.
The University of New Mexico will join the growing sand volleyball movement this spring, adding it as an official sport for the 2015 season.
UNM officially announced the addition of what will be its 12th women’s sport Tuesday. Coach Jeff Nelson and the Lobo volleyball team have been preparing for the sand sport for quite awhile.
The Lobos practiced and played an exhibition tournament on sand courts last spring – and Nelson has already secured the six additional players he will need to compete in 2015.
“We were told in late spring to start moving forward with things,” Nelson said. “We had to get the players started in classes and start getting some matches scheduled. It’s been in the works, but it’s exciting to make it official.”
Sand volleyball matches are similar to team tennis competitions, as each school has five two-person teams. Five best-of-three-set matches are played simultaneously, and the team that wins three or more is the overall winner.
Nelson and assistant coach Lisa Beauchene will run the sand volleyball program, which will gradually build to full funding and operation over the next five years. No scholarships will be awarded and no staff hired until at least 2017.
UNM has set aside $4,000 to fund the sport this year. The school estimates the program will cost about $120,000 when fully funded.
For the moment there are no sand volleyball courts at UNM, but that could change relatively quickly. Nelson said the school is looking at constructing sand courts near the football and soccer facilities, possibly in time for the spring season.
“We’re looking at practicing on campus,” Nelson said, “and sand volleyball courts themselves are not hard or expensive to build. Building a whole facility is a long-term project, but setting up a place to play could happen pretty fast.”
The Lobos played sand volleyball at the Stone Face courts in northeast Albuquerque last spring and are likely to host matches there again in 2015.
New Mexico is among several schools scheduled to add the fast-growing sport, which will have 46 teams in 2015. Only 15 schools sponsored sand volleyball teams in 2012.
The NCAA has categorized sand volleyball as an emerging sport and is in the process of transitioning it to a championship sport. The American Volleyball Coaches Association currently conducts postseason championship tournaments.
“That’s one of the reasons we wanted to add sand volleyball,” Nelson said. “More and more kids are playing and recruits are always asking about it. This gives us a better shot to get players who want to do both.”
Programs are required to have at least 10 players on sand volleyball rosters, including sand-only and “crossover” indoor players. Nelson expects to have six of each.
Local volleyball fans will be familiar with most of the initial sand-only players, four of whom played the indoor game at Albuquerque high schools. One, Ashley Newman, also played at UNM before leaving the program with eligibility remaining after suffering a knee injury in 2012.
UNM’s crossover players will be determined when the indoor season ends, Nelson said.
There will be no shortage of volunteers.
“I’d love to do it,” sophomore Cassie House said. “The environment is a lot of fun, and just the opportunity to build a relationship with a partner is exciting. It teaches you a lot about the game and about yourself. I’m really glad UNM is adding it.”