It’s not just the icy weather that has the TCU sand volleyball team itching to get out of Fort Worth.
After almost three weeks of practice, coach Erik Peterson said the team is itching to see some unfamiliar faces on the other side of the net.
But as TCU heads into its inaugural season, beginning with the Arizona Invitational on Friday in Tucson, three weeks is light years behind most programs in the grand scope of things.
“Some schools definitely start a few rungs up than us this year,” Peterson said.
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“But I think with this group of kids and the effort that they’ve been putting in day in and day out, I think they’re responding very well.”
Peterson has just one sand-specific athlete on his squad this season, freshman Sarah Grantham, and he has spent the past three weeks teaching players from the indoor team the nuances of the sand game.
Per NCAA rules, athletes on indoor scholarships can participate in sand volleyball, but those on sand scholarships cannot play on the indoor team.
Sand volleyball is, in essence, the same game as indoor volleyball, just played at a slower tempo with more strategy involved, Peterson said.
“There’s a lot more placement and a lot more strategy,” Peterson said. “It’s more of a bait and switch kind of thing. You try to lure someone into thinking you’re going to do something and do something different at the last second.”
Because TCU has to use so many indoor players in its first year, the entire 11-game season will take place during spring break. Every game will be on the road.
TCU is the only school in the Big 12 and in Texas with a sand volleyball program. The majority of programs are in the Southeast and West Coast.
“I’ve had a lot of people who have come to watch practices that have watched the game for a while and they don’t believe this is a team that’s only been playing for 2 1/2 weeks,” Peterson said. “It’s reassuring to hear that, but we all still want more.”
Peterson said he’s yet to set his pairings because the level of competition throughout the last few days of practice has continued to rise exponentially.
“Everyone had beaten everyone, and it’s absolutely cutthroat out there,” he said. “It’s fun to watch.”
While the team has made a natural transition, they are going into the season with realistic expectations and goals.
It’s not as much about wins and losses as it is about growing as a program and learning the game.
But as they fight that uphill battle, Peterson said there’s no better or more willing group to tackle the challenge head-on this season.
“They’re really getting after it and raising the bar,” Peterson said. “What they’re doing out there — it’s pretty special.”
Collegiate Sand Volleyball
▪ 40 NCAA, 4 NAIA and 20 two-year colleges sponsor sand volleyball teams
▪ Sand volleyball is officially the fastest-growing sport in NCAA Division I history
▪ Will be the 90th sport to receive an NCAA championship in spring 2016
▪ Two people per team and no substitutions through the best-of-three match, played to 21 points each set