Olympia High girls volleyball using beach season to grow program, players

Olympia High’s girls volleyball program is using beach volleyball's unique qualities to help the program and players grow for the fall indoor season.

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There are two unique qualities of beach volleyball that separate the sport from its indoor counterpart: The playing surface and the number of players in a game. 

Obviously, in beach volleyball, the games are played on a sand court instead of the classic hardwood. There are also only two players per team — not six like in the indoor game. 

To the untrained eye, these two elements may not seem like a big difference — something akin to playing 3-on-3 basketball instead of 5-on-5. But if you ask anyone who has played both variations of the sport, those two aspects are so vital to how the sport is played that they fundamentally change the game. 

So much so that the Olympia High girls volleyball program has taken advantage of the different opportunities the two seasons give them to help push its overall program to another level. 

The Titans had a phenomenal indoor season this past fall, winning a district title and finishing with a 22-7 record. Olympia followed that success by starting the spring beach season with a 9-1 record. Its only loss came on the road to the defending state champions, New Smyrna Beach High. 

Olympia girls beach and indoor volleyball coach Semei Tello Ponce credits part of his team’s success on the hardwood to the skills it has developed from playing on the sand.

No place to hide

With the rules of both the beach and indoor versions of the game being predominantly the same, having two players on each side of the net instead of six causes a major shift in the approach for players and coaches. 

“It’s been really beneficial for our indoor players to be able to play beach volleyball, too, because with indoor, you can get away with hiding a not-so-experienced player on the court,” Tello Ponce said. “In beach volleyball, there’s no hiding, because they’re going to have to touch the ball. That allows players to not only play more but also forces players to become more well-rounded.”

Junior Kiersten Rose agrees.

“Beach is a little different, just because there (are) only two people playing, and that makes it impossible to not be part of the action,” Rose said. “That constant movement combined with the sand, really helps you improve once you get on the indoor volleyball court. You’re able to move a lot faster, and your feet move a lot quicker. I’ve definitely felt like I’ve grown because of playing beach.”

Beach volleyball also helps develop communication skills and chemistry that will directly translate to the indoor game come fall. 

“Beach is very unique in the sense that they only have each other to rely on,” Tello Ponce said. “They can’t rely on other people or look to the bench; they’re the only two out there. So, they have to develop a strong bond with each other for them to be successful, and I think just the way that our pairings have worked out this year, it’s been evident that our chemistry is a big reason why we’ve had success. The hope is that we will continue to build on that chemistry and have similar success indoors.”

Each pairing needs to develop a unique and strong chemistry to be successful on the sand. The same can be said for an entire team on the hardwood, and as this group focuses on improving as beach players, they certainly aren’t missing the lessons from the sand that they can use come fall.

“Because of the necessity for communication with Laney (Perdue) in beach — especially (because) she’s my sister and my partner — I’ve learned a lot from her,” sophomore Eliza Perdue said. “Going into next year, I know I can take the things I’ve learned, like how to be more of a leader and how to communicate better to the people around me. I’ve been able to see how she reacts to me or other people and how she helps them, and I’ve taken that.” 

The great equalizer

Like most teams in West Orange and Southwest Orange, Olympia’s girls volleyball teams use the spring beach season as an opportunity to improve for the fall indoor season. But one of the opportunities that has come with the increased importance of beach volleyball as its own separate sport is the chance for stars of the sand to emerge. 

And that doesn’t necessarily mean the most gifted athlete.

“You don’t have to be the greatest athlete to be good in the sand, you just have to be a great volleyball player,” Tello Ponce said. “What I mean by that is in beach volleyball, you have to do it all. You have to pass the ball, you have to play defense, you have to know how to set the ball and not always with your hands; you may have to set it with your platform. You have to be an all-around player to be good at beach volleyball, but you don’t need to be the greatest athlete. You don’t need to have the greatest vertical.” 

For anyone who has tried  to run, jump, slide or just move on fluffy sand, you’ll know it’s significantly more difficult to do any of those movements than on hardwood floors. 

“When I first started playing beach, I was out of breath all the time,” said senior Laney Perdue, who has signed to play as an outside hitter for the University of Tampa indoor team. “My endurance has gotten a lot better because of beach — especially when it comes to jumping. I had no vertical at first, but the more I’ve worked on it, I’ve gotten a lot better at it. But I’m still training to jump higher and increase my endurance on the sand.” 

Add in the two-player factor, which means more areas of the court are uncovered and scoring points become much less about who can jump the highest and hit the ball past blockers and much more about placing the ball in specific areas. Again, the margin between those dynamic and athletic outside hitters in the indoor game and the shorter, less athletic but more technical players becomes smaller.

“I see beach volleyball as more of a finesse game,” Tello Ponce said. “It is much harder to move and jump in the sand, because of that you know that you have to work on your finesse game to hit around a block or to the back of the court where the other team isn’t.”

Sam Albuquerque is the Sports Editor for the Orange Observer. Please contact him with story ideas, results and statistics.

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Sam Albuquerque

A native of João Pessoa, Brazil, Sam Albuquerque moved in 1997 to Central Florida as a kid. After earning a communications degree in 2016 from the University of Central Florida, he started his career covering sports as a producer for a local radio station, ESPN 580 Orlando. He went on to earn a master’s degree in editorial journalism from Northwestern University, before moving to South Carolina to cover local sports for the USA Today Network’s Spartanburg Herald-Journal. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his lovely wife, Sarah, newborn son, Noah, and dog named Skulí.

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