USF became one of the first universities in the country to field a women’s sand volleyball team this spring, embracing a sport the U.S. has claimed gold medals in for the past three Summer Olympic Games.
“Sand volleyball’s popularity skyrocketed in the past decade in the U.S.,” said Eyal Zimet, co-head sand volleyball coach with head indoor coach Gilad Doron. “Now, USF is one of the pioneer institutions in the nation that sees the sport’s college-level potential.”
USF is among just 30 universities and colleges fielding a team in sand volleyball at the Division I level. Sand volleyball is categorized as an “emerging” sport by the NCAA. It will be eligible to join the ranks of “championship” sports—such as basketball and football—if 40 or more institutions form teams by 2020.
The rise in popularity can be traced to the success of America’s Olympic darlings, Misty May-Treanor and the Bay Area’s own Kerri Walsh Jennings. From 2004 to 2012, they became known as “the greatest beach volleyball team of all time,” winning gold in Athens, Beijing, and London.
The addition of sand volleyball brings the number of USF women’s sports to eight, one more than men’s sports.
USF’s team won five out of eight matches, finishing third in the league.
The squad is made up of 10 women who play in pairs, usually with the same teammate. Each pair competes against an opposing college pair in a best-of-three-sets match. The winning pair earns one point. The first school to earn three points wins.
For Mackenzie Murtagh ’14 and her teammates, sand volleyball offers a whole new set of challenges. Only a couple of them have competed in sand before. “This is mine and many of my teammates’ first time to play and learn the sand game,” said Murtagh, an exercise and sport science major, who plays setter and opposite hitter.
Leanna Ludes ’13 likes the sport because it’s a fun twist on a game she grew up playing. “In sand volleyball, you have to cover much more ground and take into account the quality of the sand, the angle of the sun, and strength of the wind,” said Ludes, a hospitality industry management major. Ludes, a setter, led the Dons’ indoor team in set assists this season and was a WCC All-Academic Squad honorable mention.
The Dons compete against Santa Clara University; Saint Mary’s College; Stanford University; the University of California, Berkeley; and others.