Huskers open sand volleyball play Thursday

By Ryan Mueksch, NewsNetNebraska

January 7th was supposed to be just another meeting for the Husker volleyball team.

It was the first day back on campus for UNL students, a day for head volleyball coach John Cook to outline the schedule for the spring semester, getting his players ready to play for the indoor season.

Or so they thought.

Cook ended the meeting nonchalantly.

“Oh, and we’re going to be adding sand volleyball this year,” he said.

With the players stunned in silence for a couple of seconds, Cook added, “It’s OK to be excited!”

The schedule for the spring semester had suddenly changed for the 11 women on the Husker volleyball team, all of whom instantly became two-sport athletes.

Time was of the essence. Only nine weeks stood in between their first practice and their first match.

The Huskers revamped their schedule to include more practices on the Olympic-sized sand volleyball court inside the Hawks Championship Center, an asset the team could now put to more practical use.

“It’s obviously been a learning process for everyone,” said junior Haley Thramer. “Only two of our girls have actually played sand volleyball competitively but it’s amazing to see how people can improve with just one practice.”

Time has run out on the Huskers to prepare for their first match.

Nebraska will travel to Chula Vista, California to take on Florida State March 14th, followed by a two-day tournament March 15th and 16th.  The tournament is headlined by last year’s national champion Pepperdine team but also includes Cal State Bakersfield, Florida State, and Grand Canyon.

“It started out as a fun thing for a lot of people but it’s getting more competitive,” Thramer said. “Everyone wants to win, so that part is fun about it. It’s fun and competitive all in the same way.”

Nebraska is now one of 32 schools to have a college women’s sand volleyball team, up from the 15 schools that competed in last year’s inaugural season.

The Huskers are the only Midwest school to have a sand volleyball team, a testament to how prominent volleyball is in Lincoln.

“We want to be the best and we’re going to do whatever we can to get there,” Thramer said. “If it means playing on an indoor sand court, why not?”

Nebraska has attempted to hold practices in the sand outside to better prepare for how the wind can affect the game, but the weather hasn’t cooperated. The cold weather has forced the Huskers to hold the majority of their practices indoors, with a large fan inside the Hawks Center simulating the wind.

UNL Freshman Alexa Strange practicing bumping outside, one of the few times the Huskers were able to practice outside. This practice was ended early due to the cold weather.

UNL Freshman Alexa Strange practicing bumping outside, one of the few times the Huskers were able to practice outside. This practice was ended early due to the cold weather.

Despite the disadvantage of not being able to practice outside frequently, the Huskers are ranked 9th in the AVCA Collegiate Sand Preseason Poll.

Aside from the obvious difference of playing indoors compared to playing outdoors, sand volleyball has some technical changes that the Huskers have been adapting to.

For one, matches are played with two players compared to six on the indoor court. Matches consist of a best-of-three format, with each team having five pairs of duals along with at least one alternate. The pairs are ranked 1-5 and will be matched up with the corresponding rank on the other team.

The Huskers will open play Thursday with their top duo consisting of  Kelsey Robinson and freshman Alexa Strange. Robinson transferred to Nebraska from Tennessee in January, coming to Lincoln with some of the most sand volleyball experience on the roster.

Other important changes to consider include: no open hand tipping, going from open hand setting to bump setting, and having a block count as one of your three touches.

Once the Huskers finish their schedule in California, they will begin to prepare for the indoor season while the other teams will continue playing matches in the sand.

“We can’t just drive down to the beach and play the next team,” Thramer said. “It will be interesting to see how we do outside. We’re going to go there, have fun, compete, and if we get a win out of it, great.”

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