The top eight teams in collegiate beach volleyball arrived in Gulf Shores, Ala., Thursday to compete in the inaugural NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship. This historic sporting event will be broadcast live on truTV and TBS, as well as streamed on NCAA.com.
So, before everything gets under way, check out five things to watch at the inaugural beach volleyball championship:
1. History in the making
The sport of collegiate beach volleyball has already made history. It was the fastest growing sport in NCAA history, having been named an emerging sport in 2012 and earning a promotion to a national championship sport just four years later.
"I'm not surprised that it was the fastest growing NCAA sport ever," said U.S. Olympic beach volleyball bronze medalist, Holly McPeak. "It's been fun to see the schools embrace it."
And, the historical landmarks keep coming for collegiate beach volleyball with the NCAA crowning its first beach volleyball national champion on Sunday, May 8.
"[The viewers are] gonna be watching history go down," said Florida State sophomore Vanessa Freire. "It’ll be good to watch."
Many, if not most, NCAA beach volleyball players started their collegiate careers with indoor volleyball. Despite sharing basic skills, the sports are "completely different," according to McPeak, who won the 1990 NCAA Indoor Volleyball National Championship with UCLA.
"It's fun to see the indoor players switch to the beach," she said. "The way you touch the ball, the strategy is completely different. Adjusting to the wind is a big deal; adjusting to only having one partner on the court is a big deal."
Seeing the development of these cross-sport student-athletes will, indeed, be fun to watch. McPeak says strategy is incredibly important in beach volleyball, and each decision each player makes is extremely important.
"You can't hide on the beach," she said. "Indoors you can be much more specialized. [On the beach] you have to be able to pass, set, hit, do everything."
3. One of the most beautiful collegiate sporting venues. Ever.
An aesthetic benefit of beach volleyball is, well, the beach. The inaugural beach volleyball championship is being played on the white sand beaches of Gulf Shores, Ala., and this gulf coast destination is one of, if not the most, beautiful place an NCAA sporting event has been held.
"It is beautiful. The wind’s not too bad. It's sunny; it's wonderful," said FSU's Hailey Luke. "It’s kinda perfect."
Earning a trip to the "Redneck Rivera" must seem like a second spring break for the student-athletes, with the added bonus of possibly returning to campus with a trophy. But, getting to compete at such a picturesque locale is a victory in itself.
"You can’t beat the venue," McPeak said. "You’ve got white sand and blue skies."
The eight teams who received an invitation to Gulf Shores certainly earned them. The most losses suffered by a team competing in the championship is eight, and two of the teams have won AVCA titles: Pepperdine (2012, 2014) and Southern California (2015).
"In the postseason, there are no bad teams," said Sierra Sanchez of FSU. "Everybody’s good. We’re all prepared; we’re all fired up. It's just a matter of who can leave it all on the court."
The teams are excited by the brand new postseason as well, which will make for even more exciting, competitive volleyball.
"[You'll see] a lot of heart, a lot of hustle," Freire said. "Everyone’s gunning for that championship this year."
5. Beach volleyball is new, and not just to the NCAA
"This first NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship is exactly 20 years since beach volleyball was made an Olympic sport," McPeak said. "The first [Olympics with beach volleyball] was 1996 in Atlanta."
Beach volleyball didn't even have a presence on college campuses as a club sport as recently as 1990.
"When I played collegiate volleyball (1987-1990) there was no beach volleyball associated with the schools," McPeak said. "I actually never dreamed that [collegiate beach volleyball] would actually happen. I didn’t think it was possible."