Not many college students can say that they live on the beach, so why doesn’t UCSB have a sand volleyball team?
After five years as an “emerging” sport, sand volleyball officially became a championship NCAA Division 1 category for women in October 2014, and it’s become the fastest-growing NCAA sport, with 50 schools currently sponsoring it. The top teams are USC, University of Hawai‘i, Florida International, Pepperdine, and Florida State, and the first national championship will be in 2016.
Many would like to see UCSB there, including Kathy Gregory, who coached the Gaucho indoor team for 38 years and is known as the “queen of the beach” for pioneering sand volleyball. “UCSB should have sand volleyball because of the tradition and culture of Santa Barbara with so many legends of the game as well as the most beautiful beaches that attract so many people to play this fabulous sport,” she said.
Nicole Lantagne Welch, who took over as the UCSB coach in February 2013, said that the idea of organizing a sand team has been considered for the last five years, explaining that former athletic director (AD) Mark Massari supported the idea but never put a formal plan in place. The interim director, Gary Cunningham, said the idea did not come up in the seven months he was on the job, so the possibility lies on the plate of new AD John McCutcheon, who was appointed on March 2. “I am aware that the possibility of adding sand volleyball was discussed prior to my arrival,” said McCutcheon, “but we haven’t looked at it any further at this point.”
Among other challenges, UCSB would have to offer scholarships if sand volleyball became a reality, and finding that funding is the largest obstacle. Many collegiate sand teams use their indoor players for the sand team, which the NCAA allows. UCSB would also have to pay for a sand court and nets, which the American Volleyball Coaches Association estimates to be $48,300. Additional equipment, such as scoreboards, tents, balls, lines, refs, and uniforms, tallies another $7,000 to the price tag.
It’s likely that the greater Santa Barbara community would rally around such an idea, given the area’s historical ties to the sport. In 1950, the first beach volleyball circuit was organized on five beaches in California, including East Beach, which also played host to the first sponsored tour that same year. Since then, that stretch of sand along Cabrillo Boulevard has become hallowed ground for the sport, the place where Olympians like Karch Kiraly and Todd Rogers cut their spikes.
As it stands, the women’s indoor team hold their own beach tournaments against each other, but it’s not the same as competing against other schools. “Since we practice inside every day, playing on the beach is a fun way to be competitive while enjoying the outdoors,” said indoor player Ali Barbeau. “I love every single thing about the beach game, even the sand that sticks to my sweat when I dive and the scratches I get on my knees that I feel in the shower.”
For UCSB students like Barbeau, getting a beach team would complete their college experience.