• Blue Springs South Sand Volleyball League gaining popularity

  • One of Dave MacLean’s biggest challenges as a coach is dodging burnout.

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  • One of Dave MacLean’s biggest challenges as a coach is dodging burnout.
    The Blue Springs South volleyball coach understands the importance of getting his girls plenty of work on the court, but between summer workouts, practice and the grind of the season, the number of hours they spend in the gym adds up. Fortunately, MacLean’s discovered a way to break up the redundancy through one of the country’s fastest growing sports.
    Every Thursday morning, MacLean’s squad and members of the William Chrisman, Grain Valley, Lee’s Summit North, Lee’s Summit and Pleasant Hill volleyball teams get together at Centerline Beach Volleyball in Blue Springs to compete in the Blue Springs South Sand Volleyball League.
    MacLean first started getting his team together to play sand volleyball two years ago, but this is the first season he’s invited other teams.
    “I like it because it’s a change of pace for the girls,” MacLean said. “They play so much indoor. Here, we kind of back off and just hope their competitive juices take over a little bit.”
    That method seems to be working. On Thursday, music blared as the girls jogged out onto each of the outdoor courts. MacLean, sporting flip-flops and a backward cap, didn’t do much coaching and the atmosphere was certainly chill, but once the games started, it was all business.
    “Come on! Get it! Get it,” Lee’s Summit junior Emma Lock shouted at her partner, Hailey Criswell, as she chased after a loose ball.
    Sand volleyball has been growing for years thanks to increased television coverage and the emergence of Olympic stars like Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. In 2012, it was a sanctioned NCAA Division I varsity sport for the first time with 15 schools starting programs. Most of those schools are located in warm-weather states like California, Florida and Arizona, but the Midwest is starting to take notice with Nebraska starting a program.
    MacLean’s league is growing as well. In the spring, he sent out an email to other high school coaches letting them know their players could join. His numbers are still fairly modest with 28 two-player teams – 22 of which come from South – but he expects increased participation in the coming years.
    “I just like playing,” said South senior Alexa Armendariz, who has verbally committed to Missouri. “It’s just you and a partner. It’s really competitive and everyone’s really into it. It’s totally different from indoor but it’s still volleyball, so it’s still fun.”
    MacLean compared the difference between sand and indoor volleyball to the difference between swimming and water polo. They’re related, but uniquely different.
    “There’s still great carry-over,” he said. “It’s fun. It’s something different. This is something I know when they’re done playing high school ball or college ball, they can still play because there’s leagues around everywhere.”
    Page 2 of 2 - There’s also a lower risk of injury since players are running and diving onto sand instead of hardwood. And because there’s just two players per team, MacLean said it’s probably a better individual workout than playing indoor.
    “If I just sat here with a clicker and counted how many touches they get, they touch the ball so much when they play doubles, they’re growing in their ball skills,” MacLean said. “They’re getting better without me having to micromanage them in indoor practice.”
    With two players, communication is even more critical, and there’s some strategy involved that’s not as prevalent in the indoor game.
    “Instead of just power, it’s about placing and being smart,” Lock said. “Instead of having six players, it’s just two so you have to read the ball better and be smarter about where you go.”
    All things considered, it’s the perfect way to continue improving during the summer months while also being exposed to a new sport.
    “I think they like being outside,” MacLean said. “It’s summer time, they’re kids and this is a great way to still play volleyball and educate them that there’s more than just the indoor game. Because you go to California, you go to Arizona, you go to Florida and this is a part of life.”
    Follow Shawn Garrison on Twitter: @GarrisonEJC

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