By Lauren Myers | LSU Student
LSU Tiger fans will have something new to cheer come March 2014 when the LSU sand volleyball team joins the 20 existing varsity Tiger sports.
"It's something that…the community will really jump into," predicts current Indoor Volleyball Coach Fran Flory.
Associate Athletic Director Miriam Segar notes sand volleyball is an emerging NCAA sport and Flory has pushed for the addition of the team for several years.
The addition of sand volleyball will mark the first time LSU has added a sport since 1996 when women's soccer and softball were introduced after female LSU students cited the need for more women's sports to fulfill Title IX requirements.
Title IX, passed in 1972, requires gender equity for men and women in every educational program that receives federal funding, including athletics. Segar doesn't attribute Title IX as the sole reason for adding the sport, but acknowledges the school is "always looking to expand our opportunities for women." She notes that women are still underrepresented as student-athletes at LSU.
"More women should get a chance to be collegiate athletes and this is an avenue, within the sport that I love, to be able to do that," said Flory.
Segar also acknowledges that sand volleyball is a relatively inexpensive sport, with little costs for equipment and uniforms when compared to other LSU athletic programs.
Flory, who has coached the LSU volleyball team for 15 years, will hold the position of head sand volleyball coach. "It [will be] hard, but ertainly doable." She says she will rely on the strength of her staff to help her juggle both roles. There will be an associate head sand volleyball coach hired in January.
Flory isn't the only one who will have an allegiance to both teams. Current indoor volleyball players are eligible to play on the two-player sand team. Current indoor players Haley Smith and Cati Leak are showing interest, she said.
The outdoor season, which runs from March until May, is not expected to conflict with the August-December indoor season.
The entire indoor squad already has outdoor experience, devoting part of its spring training to playing in the sand. "It's good experience [and] good cross-over training and we will all train out there," said Flory, but adding that not every player is interested in doubling up with the two sports.
Segar believes players who choose to play both ways will "add…good dimension to the indoor roster," but not all players will be required to do so and the teams will have different rosters. Players who are on scholarship specifically for the sand volleyball team will not to play indoor as their aid would count against indoor volleyball scholarship limits, according to the American Volleyball Coaches Association rules.
Flory and Segar hope the program will help with recruitment for the indoor team. "LSU has an opportunity to get [additional] key players," she says, since many schools don't yet offer both. Flory notes some of the top recruits in the country are players who play both sand and indoor volleyball.
"To be able to put us in that class of schools that are saying ‘Hey you can do both here and have the opportunity to succeed at a national level,'…it already has pushed the interest level in the indoor program."
Segar notes that scholarships for the sand team will be phased in over the next few years until a maximum of six is reached. The current roster is not finalized for the spring, but there will be 18 to 20 players on the 2014 team, with up to 24 as the program grows.
Players who choose to play both sports will face adjustments. Sand volleyball only fields two players per team. The indoor game has six per side. Indoor volleyball is played mainly above the net, while sand volleyball is played more below.
Sand volleyball is expanding as a collegiate sport. According to the American Volleyball Coaches Association, 30 colleges and universities sponsored sand volleyball teams last season.
In order for the NCAA to recognize sand volleyball as a championship sport, that number must increase to 40.
The University of South Carolina currently is the only other school in the Southeastern Conference with a sand program, but there are other teams in the area, notably Tulane, UL Monroe, and the University of Alabama-Birmingham, with teams.
Flory has high hopes for the program, explaining that she thinks it will have a chance to win a national championship. "We can be successful at a very high level on the national level."
As of now, the team will play at the Mango's Beach Volleyball facility in Baton Rouge. There are hopes for an on-campus facility in the future.