When thinking of a day at the beach in Southern California thoughts of ocean waves, miles of sand and hot summer sun come to mind. This spring, six of the country’s top collegiate women’s volleyball programs take serve in San Diego as part of the third annual Collegiate Beach Volleyball Championship, an event created by CBS College Sports Network. But, at least one school will be preparing for the event miles away from that warm California sun.
The northern lake-side town of Madison, Wisconsin, has an average high temperature in March of 45 degrees, a mark that rises to only 58 in the month of April. Yet the home of the University of Wisconsin is the training ground for the Badger volleyball team who will compete in this April’s beach championship in Southern California.
“I know the sand game is just so good for our players,” said Pete Waite, Wisconsin head volleyball coach, who is the all-time winningest coach in Badger volleyball history, and among the active leaders in wins in all of NCAA volleyball. “Every summer for the last five or six years, our team has made a point of playing in the sand here in Madison, because it makes their game so much more well-rounded.”
However, in order to prepare for this spring’s fast-approaching event, Waite and the Badgers are not able to wait for the summer months and hot weather. So they had to devise an alternate plan. On January 19, when the new AVP Crocs Hot Winter Nights Indoor Beach Volleyball Tour came to town, he found his alternate plan.
Waite decided that if they could not take the game outdoors into the sand, they would bring the sand indoors to the game. It was suggested that he purchase the sand being used for the AVP event once they left town, and build a court indoors so his players could practice and train. So that’s what he did.
“I actually was going to watch the (AVP) match with a guy from high school who happens to be a contractor in town,” Waite explained. “Through our conversation and me explaining our situation… trying to get the sand, he mentioned that his company was the one who was taking the sand from the AVP back to their pits. So as it worked out, we were able to get it the next morning after the AVP event was done.”
The problem then became what to do with the 270 tons of sand they were going to purchase.
“We had been knocking some ideas around as far as where on campus we could put it,” Waite said. “Even to the point of putting it right in our field house where we play our matches.” Due to a scheduling conflict, the Wisconsin Field House was out of the picture. That’s when “we really tried to get creative about finding another place.”
The other place turned out to be a local warehouse, about ten minutes from the UW campus, vacated by a company that had moved out of town. After a friend had tipped him off to the available space, Waite recalled the excitement as his plan was being realized.
“It had the lighting we needed, and had the space we needed, and we started looking into the cost again and seeing if we could do it,” he said. “It really came to fruition in about a week; in seven or eight days we had the warehouse, we had the sand, and we were ready to go.”
With all of those different components, building an indoor sand court sounds like an expensive proposition. But Waite says that being creative helps bring down the cost.
“It’s not a bad expenditure at all,” he said in regards to putting it all together. “We purchased our own railroad ties” to build the frame. They were used ties, and “that was fine, it was a lot cheaper.”
Waite says that overall “you can usually get it done within just a couple thousand dollars if you have the facility to do it in.”
It was important for Waite to get the players involved in the project too, and to get them on board with the idea of training on an indoor sand court.
“We actually had our team get in there a couple of days later and bring in their rakes and shovels and level out the sand,” he said. “They got to take some ownership in it right away, and they were really feeling good about how it looked. By the time they were done, they were ready to get in the sand and start training.”
After the court was finished, the players started training on their own in the sand once or twice a week. “Some of the players had not played a lot of sand,” said Waite. “Some of the younger ones, it was a little new to them.” But thanks to the new indoor facility, “they had probably a month and a half of sand training before we went on spring break.”
A trip that had been arranged before the Badgers’ planned involvement in the Collegiate Beach Championship, the spring break journey was to San Diego, home of Mission Beach, site of the 2008 beach tournament.
“We spent half our time in the gym and half on the courts on the beach right where we’ll be playing the tournament,” Waite said. “Once we got there (Mission Beach), the players realized that the outdoor game is a little bit different. It was a pretty windy day when we started, but once they got used to that, they had a blast and improved over the course of our spring break.”
In order to continue their opportunities on the beach in the future, Waite knows he must have the backing of his administration. Even though the current sand court is temporary due to the planned demolition of the warehouse in which it sits, he is confident that a more permanent facility is in the near future.
Having the sand court “gave our administration the idea of trying to find a spot for it, and thinking about it not just for our program, but for the other athletic teams in our department,” he said. “Whether it’s the football team doing some sand training during their conditioning sessions, or softball or tennis or anybody, I think they like the idea of doing some sand training. I think that was a real benefit for us – we were able to kick start the idea with our sport, but it might just carry over to some others.
“At least it’s now in their minds, and we’ll keep reminding them of the fact that we would like to get it done as soon as we can. There’s just so many good reasons to have it that I think it’s got everybody thinking that we’re going to try to get one here.”
With a little innovation and hard work, the team from a town setting records for snowfall this past winter will be ready to compete on the beach in the warm California sun this April.
“If people haven’t tried it yet, they should,” said Waite. “Just try to be creative and find a way to get it done, because I think the indoor game will improve as the players get on the court in the sand. I think the bodies will be stronger, their games will be more balanced and they’re going to see their team take a step up in their game.”
Regardless of the outcome of the Collegiate Beach Championship event, Coach Waite has already seen the benefit of building the indoor sand court.
“I think it’s already been worth the effort of putting everything together,” he said. “We’ve noticed it just over the course of the week during spring break, that they had the pre-training before we got on the outdoor courts. In general, it’s just great for their overall game.”