April 24, 2009
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Eight members of the Notre Dame volleyball team traveled to Florida last week and came back to campus with the team title after winning the Collegiate Beach Volleyball Challenge at Fiesta On Siesta Key. The four two-person tandems of Megan Fesl and Angela Puente, Kellie Sciacca and Frenchy Silva, Kristen Dealy and Serinity Phillips, and Christina Kaelin and Beth Wildermuth totaled enough points in both pool and championship play to earn the distinction for the Irish.
Originally, BIG EAST Conference member USF was named the team champion, but a routine review of the overall results and point breakdown showed that Notre Dame had actually earned the title. Tournament officials later announced that Notre Dame and USF would share the event's trophy.
"This [playing in a sand volleyball tournament] was something we really wanted to do and I could not be more pleased with the results after our first tournament," Irish head coach Debbie Brown said.
After wrapping up the spring indoor season with an informal match against Michigan and tournaments in Nashville and Louisville, the Irish had just a handful of practices at the Outpost Sports sand courts in Mishawaka, Ind.
"When the weather cooperated we were able to get several practices in, and it was really fun to see the enthusiasm of the players to learn a new game" Brown said. "Obviously, the same skills apply but as far as learning different shots and new strategies, the players were so coachable and made huge strides from day one. I think there's no question in my mind that this is going to help us on the indoor game because it forces you to look at things a little bit differently, to see the court differently and it was fun to see the excitement they had to learn and try something new.
The Fiesta On Siesta Key tournament featured 48 two-person teams. The initial stage of the tournament had teams broken into 12 pools. At the conclusion of pool play, the top 16 overall teams moved into the Gold bracket, the next 16 to the Silver bracket and the final 16 to the Bronze bracket. All four of Notre Dame's teams won or came in second within their respective groupings during pool play.
Three Irish squads competed in the Gold bracket - making Notre Dame the only school with such a total in the top event - with the fourth narrowly missing out on a similar opportunity. Phillips and Dealy made it to the semifinals of the Gold bracket along with Fesl and Puente as Kaelin and Wildermuth bowed out of the first round of Gold bracket play. Sciacca and Silva advanced to the semifinals of the Silver bracket. In fact, Phillips and Dealy knocked out the tournament's top-seeded doubles team from Miami in the opening round of the Gold bracket.
"For most of the players, they had never played in any kind of a beach tournament at all so it was relatively new for most of them," Brown added. "I think it was a fun way to have that be your last competition of the spring."
Assistant coach Matt Botsford oversaw the team to Florida for the competition. "As far as my expectations and the team's expectations going in, I felt pretty confident after seeing them out on the sand for the first couple of times," Botsford said. "They were better than I anticipated and they caught onto some of the concepts we were working on faster than we expected. There is quite a significant difference being on the sand versus the hard court, and to see that they could make that transition as fast as they did was very encouraging.
"I think the biggest key was the depth of our four teams. We felt that each one of those teams could do some damage and win some matches; every one of them had the ability to beat some pretty solid teams. When it was all said and done, they performed extremely well. They were competitive in all of their matches, and I think the big key that surprised some people was that the team from the farthest distance and the coldest climate, the ones that probably didn't anticipate spending much time out on the sand, did so well."
The tournament title could not come at a better time for Notre Dame and the college volleyball world as a whole. Just this past week, the Division I Legislative Council added sand volleyball to the list of emerging sports for women, clearing the way for schools to use the sport toward minimum sponsorship requirements and minimum financial aid awards. The sport is expected to create additional athletics opportunities for female student-athletes, though some administrators and coaches worry that it may simply provide additional opportunities for current indoor volleyball players.