This week kicked off the season for the first girls beach volleyball program at Dr. Phillips.
Out at the beach volleyball courts at Dr. P. Phillips Community Park, a small group of high-school girls knock a volleyball around.
Each time the ball is put in the air, a gust of wind pushes it around, and with each missed volley, laughs ring out and jokes are made mercilessly. If you ask the girls, they will say it’s the best way for a team to bond.
The girls are members of Dr. Phillips’ first beach volleyball team, and for a group that has its first game — ever — this week, they seem impressively calm. Luckily for them, most know one another, and they’re just excited to get things started.
“It’s really cool to be a part of this, because it’s the very first one,” sophomore Kaley Landis said. “We all have good chemistry, because most of us are from indoor, so we already know each other. But when we go to beach, I feel like it’s more fun and less pressure.”
The newness of the program is not hard to overlook, especially when it comes to equipment — or lack thereof. Like any new program, you have to start from somewhere, and for first-year head coach Emily Loftus, it’s all about finding funds.
Just two days before their first match — scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 27 — the beach volleyball team was still sporting whatever leftover volleyball jerseys they had and were practicing with balls designed for indoor use.
But here’s the thing about these girls: They don’t care about that. For them, being able to play volleyball is a prize within itself.
“We started on a $0 budget, and we are playing out in a public park, and the girls are playing with indoor balls because outdoor volleyballs are extremely expensive,” Loftus said. “They show up and they do what they need to. The first thing that they do is rake the sand before every practice, because they want to do this — I never have to force them to anything, because they love this game.”
With no beach courts on campus, the team practices on the two courts at Dr. P. Phillips Community Park and will play home games at Orlando & Tampa Bay Volleyball Academy.
Although there are going to be growing pains that come along with starting a new program, the talent Loftus has in place is promising. Most of the players, even if they have no outdoor experience, have played volleyball for DP and their respective club teams. Players such as Landis and Emily Evans have outdoor (and indoor) experience, while others such as Alexis Distasio and Olivia Osuna have been stalwarts on the indoor team.
“They were both the two most impactful indoor players that we had on Dr. Phillips team,” Loftus said. “They were just so standout, because they’re sophomores. They have two whole years after this year, so they’re really, really excited about beach.”
Although outdoor and indoor volleyball have plenty of commonalities, there are significant differences. Unlike indoor, outdoor volleyball requires players to adjust to different weather conditions — which also includes dealing with wind, sun and the rainy days.
“That’s actually one of our biggest parts of our practices is learning how to deal with the elements,” Loftus said. “They have to check their wind before every contact. They have to check their wind before they serve. Is it cloudy? Is it sunny? They’re kind of like Girl Scouts.”
As Loftus prepares her less-experienced girls for the art of outdoor volleyball, for players such as Evans, she already is helping her teammates — including partner Victoria Zarazel — with the basics.
“I just tell them different things to be prepared for, and I’ve already started working with my partner on different signals,” Evans said. “You really just have to strategize against the other team and work together. It’s more about finding weaknesses in one person, and attacking that one person.”
This team has the chance to begin a legacy, and although there are some goals that Loftus has in place that she’d like to see, the most important thing is that this group puts in the hard work while also understanding its role in the history of Dr. Phillips.
“As a coach, I always have so much fun with these girls, because they’re just a great group of kids,” she said. “But I’m excited to see what they want to accomplish and how far they’re willing to go to get to those accomplishments. I’m most excited about (them) being that impactful, history-making team.”