By Zach Smith
The Florida Southern College athletic program is welcoming a new sport for the upcoming 2017-18 school year as FSC will take to the beach for women’s beach volleyball.
The NCAA officially approved beach volleyball as a fully recognized championship sport in 2015, and current indoor volleyball head coach and director of volleyball operations Jill Stephens said she was insistent on bringing the sport to FSC.
Stephens said she wanted to bring beach volleyball to Florida Southern in order to increase the opportunities for prospective female student athletes.
“It has been a huge goal of mine as an administrator for Title IX purposes in adding another female sport, and that is one of the prongs of Title IX, to meet the needs and desires of our female students,” Stephens said. “From the beginning, it has been about creating more opportunities for female student athletes.”
Current indoor volleyball assistant coach Hyrum Keime will assume head coaching duties for the women’s beach volleyball team. Keime has been an assistant with the indoor team for four years, and his playing career included playing for the United States Volleyball Junior Olympic beach volleyball team in 2000.
Keime said he is looking forward to see FSC become a pioneering beach volleyball program for the rest of the Sunshine State Conference.
“It is super exciting to be one of the first Division II teams to have a program and to be on that frontier and forefront of the sport, leading the way for the Sunshine State Conference,” Keime said.
Junior middle blocker Allie Geary expressed the excitement amongst current indoor volleyball players. Geary said she is thoroughly excited for the volleyball program to branch out and be successful in both indoor and beach. She also said adding beach volleyball forces current indoor players to become more well-rounded players.
Beach volleyball only calls for two players from one team to be on the court at a single moment in time. Both players must work together and become jack-of-all-trades and dominate on many fronts. Indoor volleyball calls for players to be much more specialized.
Despite beach volleyball’s rules differing slightly from indoor volleyball, that won’t be the biggest adjustment for Florida Southern. Keime’s beach volleyball experience could prove to be vital as one of greatest challenges facing the new program will be adapting to a new playing environment.
Indoor volleyball allows for the student athletes to have the luxury of air conditioning and ideal conditions each and every match. However, beach volleyball is a completely different story.
Each match, grueling heat, rough winds, blinding sunlight and thick sand can all play a huge factor in determining the strategy and flow of the match.
Keime said the uncertainty surrounding the elements adds extra pressure on the athletes and makes it that much harder to perform at a high level.
Geary said the transition of moving from indoor to beach is a tough transition to make. Geary, a Deland, Fla., native, has played beach volleyball for three years and competed in local beach volleyball tournaments in her area.
“I think after I go from beach to indoor, indoor is easier because it is easier to move and jump, but going from indoor to beach after a while, I can definitely tell my passing is off and moving through the sand is so tough,” Geary said.
Eckerd College is currently the only other program in the SSC with a beach volleyball program, and Stephens and Keime are hopeful other SSC schools will follow in their footsteps. The conference requires six schools to have a sport in order for that specific sport to become an official conference sport.
The addition of the sport calls for a venue to play home matches. Stephens said the volleyball staff is working to transform the campus’s current beach volleyball setup across the street from Wynee’s Bistro on Columbia Way.
Stephens’s plan is to uproot the two-court setup and create a new three-court setup. The plan is awaiting approval from the Board of Trustees.
The addition of beach volleyball also calls for Keime to add more roster spots to the volleyball program. Keime said the team will consist of 12-15 players. Each match will see the team divided into five pairs of two, leaving the team with several reserve players.
The beach team should see a good amount of crossover from the indoor team in the early stages. Stephens said the team will most likely consist of current FSC indoor volleyball players next season. Seniors finished with their indoor eligibility will be offered opportunities to play on the beach team.
However, Stephens emphasized the desire for the beach program to progressively move toward recruiting beach-specific players.
The beach volleyball team will kick off its first workouts in the fall of 2017 and the first matches will be played in the spring of 2018.