The Bruins beach volleyball team begins their inaugural season this spring. Led by Coach Vickie Denny, the team began their regular season last Friday by facing Spartanburg Methodist College in Cleveland, Georgia.
Coach Denny and Bob Jones University’s athletic program proposed the idea of sand volleyball to President Steve Pettit and the rest of the executive team three years ago. In the fall of 2021, the University announced the sport would join BJU’s intercollegiate lineup.
Neal Ring, the director of intercollegiate athletics, described sand volleyball as “an up-and-coming sport.”
He said it seemed like a natural fit for BJU. “One of the driving forces for us was we have all kinds of volleyball players and all kinds of potential,” Ring said. “[Beach volleyball] is different, but it’s still the same general characteristics.”
Many of the 24 indoor volleyball players as well as a few first-time Bruins comprise the new beach team this spring. “A lot of players today want to do both,” Ring said. “They want to play indoor and beach, and we’ve actually lost recruits [in the past] because they went somewhere where they could do both. So it was kind of a recruiting enhancement for us as well.”
From a skills perspective, beach volleyball improves the athletes’ game tremendously, Ring believes. In the sand, the Bruins will compete in doubles, totaling five teams of two.
Andrea Villaverde, a sophomore communication major and defensive specialist for the indoor team, said, “In sand, you have to be faster. You have to really have endurance and stamina, and [beach volleyball] is a lot of quick movement reading.”
In her first year coaching beach volleyball, Denny enjoys the outdoor environment the team gets to play in. “The atmosphere is just a lot of fun,” Denny said. “It’s like a different sport.”
The game, however, does not come without its challenges. “The biggest thing about outdoor is all the elements you have to deal with,” Denny said. “The wind is definitely a huge factor. That’s probably the biggest challenge coming outside.”
According to Ring, beach volleyball offers many benefits for the Bruins players this spring. “Many of our volleyball athletes are used to a year-round model,” Ring said. “They played in high school, and the rest of the time they’re playing club volleyball. So this gets them back into that physical rhythm that they’re used to. There are some mental health benefits, and [the athletes] are continuing that development of their personal abilities.”
Ring said the National Collegiate Athletic Association deems beach volleyball an “emerging sport,” and many schools are adding it to expand their volleyball program. He believes the Bruins will find games to be highly competitive, especially as a first-year team, but the team has a head start since the sport is young and several players have beach experience.
This season, the team will play all matches away because the campus does not have enough outdoor courts to host other schools. However, plans are being made for the Bruins to be able to host in the spring season of 2023. Fans can carpool to beach matches, many of which take place as close as Spartanburg and in nearby North Carolina and Georgia.
According to Ring, Bruins beach volleyball now serves as a countable intercollegiate sport for the university’s progression toward a NCAA full membership and allows athletes the chance to get outside and drastically improve their game. The players are greatly anticipating the chance to play.
“We’re definitely more excited than nervous,” Villaverde said. “We’re really focusing on trusting each other and bringing energy to the court.”