Beach Volleyball Anxious for Start of Inaugural Season

Mar 15, 2017

MSU's inaugural beach volleyball team.
Credit Morehead State Athletics

The Morehead State beach volleyball team has a unique opportunity coming up this month.

Unique, because the opportunity will never repeat.

"I think the idea of being a first and starting what we believe will be a long and exciting tradition of beach volleyball, and this is the first step in a long journey for Morehead State, it's just exciting to be a part of that," head coach Jaime Gordon said.

March 17 is when the Eagles will play their first match ever, at Stetson. That will be their one and only chance to get the program off to a perfect start.

Later that same day, the Eagles will take on Georgia State and New Mexico.

Morehead State is one of 15 schools to add beach volleyball as a varsity sport this year.

The beach volleyball roster is made up of athletes already in place with the women's indoor volleyball team.

What can fans expect to see?

"Hard work ethic, positive attitude and excitement," Gordon said. "I think that this is a real special opportunity to do something historic. There's one first, and our players will have the opportunity to represent Morehead State for the first time in the sport of beach volleyball."

As a newcomer, Morehead State mostly will be facing programs with experience and, thus, be at a disadvantage.

The Eagles will play 17 matches total, none at home.

However, Morehead State is ahead of the regional curve. Gordon says he has the first Division I program within an area that includes Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

And that may be a recruiting advantage as players consider playing both indoors and on the beach.

"I think we're seeing more athletes are interested in competing in both," Gordon said. "We've already seen an impact of interest relative to other programs simply based on the fact that we sponsor beach volleyball, as well."

Having beach volleyball means the indoor players will get a bit more training time than usual in the spring, and at a more competitive level.

Input from coaches is limited, though. In beach volleyball, coaches are not allowed to give feedback during matches except for during timeouts and when the players change sides. Otherwise, players rely on themselves and their partner to make adjustments.

Beach contests differ in several other ways from the indoor game.

Instead of six-on-six, teams play two-on-two. The format is similar to what is used in tennis doubles, with top pairs matched against one another, second-bests against one another, then third-bests and so on. There are five matches in all, the win going to the team that wins three or more of those matches. So 10 of Morehead's 14 players will see action against a given opponent.

Matches consist of three sets - the first two being played to 21 points and the third going to 15.

Other differences from the indoor game include a slightly heavier and less-inflated ball, along with a slightly smaller sand court.

"The surface definitely has a huge impact on how you jump, on technique," Gordon said. "The other part is that ... the indoor game is a lot more specialized. You have players that play positions that really do specific things. On the beach, you need to be able to serve, pass, set, attack. And it becomes pretty easy for your opponents to take advantage of weaknesses. That all-around skill is critical to the beach game."

Morehead State has built a three-court beach complex, so the Eagles have had a chance to hone their skills before heading to Stetson.

Gordon says his outside hitters and setters, who traditionally have a more complete skill set, have been quickest to transition to the beach game. But some of his taller players - middle blockers - have stepped up nicely and shown promise.

He will look first to his three seniors to lead the way. They are Bailey Nichol, a 6-footer from Normal, Ill.; Hope Rillema, 5-9, from Whitehall, Mich.; and Sydney Schuler, 6-1 out of Independence and Notre Dame Academy.

"All three of those players do have pretty complete skill sets," Gordon said. "Bailey, who's been an attacker and setter for us. Hope, who's been a defensive player for us and outside hitter. As well as Sydney Schuler, who's been an outside hitter in the indoor game. I think her skills should transition quite quickly over to the beach."

After three opening day matches at Stetson, Morehead State will stick around another day to face Lincoln Memorial and Jacksonville State. MSU also will have March dates in Florida against Jacksonville, Weber International, Florida International, Jacksonville State, Eckerd, Huntingdon and Florida Atlantic.

The closest the Eagles will come to home will be the Governor Beach Bash, April 7-8, at Clarksville, Tenn. There, they'll face UAB, Louisiana Monroe, UT Martin and host Austin Peay.