Nebraska opened its beach volleyball season last weekend, playing five matches over three days in Arizona. While the Huskers lost four of those matches, all four losses came to ranked teams as Nebraska experimented with different pairings throughout the weekend.
Beach volleyball at the college level is a best-of-five series, so you’ll always see 3-2, 4-1 or 5-0 scores. Coaches identify five pairs of players and rank them one through five, Nebraska’s top team then takes on LSU’s top team, for example, and on down the line. Those individual games between pairs are best two-out-of-three sets with rally scoring to 21. There are a couple of rule variations. Open-hand tipping isn’t allowed, and if a player sets she has to set cleanly meaning there can be no spin on the ball.
With that basic structure, team selection is pretty important. So what makes the perfect two-person beach team?
You want players who can pass and serve, first. Even though beach is different than indoor volleyball, those two skills are still super important.
Most of the time you’ll see a shorter player paired with a player with more size. America’s top beach duo for many years, Kerri Walsh Jennings (6-2) and Misty May-Treanor (5-8), is sort of the prototype. You want a player capable of playing great backcourt defense and a player with enough size to put up a big block at the net. In the indoor game you can get away with having some players who aren’t “all-around” players. It’s much more difficult in beach volleyball with only two players per side.
Nebraska mixed up its pairings throughout the opening weekend to get the players experience playing with one another, and it resulted in some interesting duos. Lauren Stivrins (6-4) and Jazz Sweet (6-3) were Nebraska’s top pair in the season-opening win over Benedictine University at Mesa. As the season goes on the team will find the players that play best together. Coach John Cook said he expects Kelly Hunter (5-11) and Annika Albrecht (6-0), two players with a good range of skills, to be the Huskers’ top duo this season.
Because beach volleyball is considered a separate sport from indoor, seniors who have exhausted their eligibility on the indoor team, like Hunter and Albrecht, can still play beach in the spring of their senior seasons. Nebraska, which has the only indoor beach court in the country, is kind of unique in that it uses players from the indoor team to make up its beach team. Many schools, especially those on the west coast, will have separate teams with players recruited for one or the other.
The Huskers began beach volleyball in the spring of 2013, my senior year. I would’ve played a season of beach volleyball if not for some interesting timing. When Nebraska officially announced it was launching a beach program, I had signed a professional contract earlier the same day, which meant I was no longer eligible to compete in NCAA athletics.
Nebraska is back in action Friday against Missouri State at the Hawks Championship Center, the first of two home matches this season. Those matches are closed to the public, but check HailVarsity.com for coverage.