Aug 21, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - University of Notre Dame volleyball senior Sammie Brown remembers her childhood days of playing sand volleyball with her family at Santa Barbara, Calif.'s legendary East Beach fondly.
With her mom, Tina, a former volleyball player at Cal Poly, and sisters, Keslie, a former setter at Cal State Los Angeles, and Nicki, a current outside hitter at Colorado, in tow, the family would head down to the famous beach for pick up matches against each other and with friends.
While that might not be a usual family outing for most, Brown emphasized that in California, beach volleyball is almost a lifestyle.
"It's a very social thing growing up," said Brown. "Everyone participates in beach volleyball camps and youth tournaments. The weather is nice all year around so you can play a lot. It's not unusual for pick-up matches to start at 8 or 9 a.m. during the summer months at East."
A standout sand player in high school, Brown was a member of the USA Girls Youth National Beach Training Team in 2009 and 2010 and played at the 2009 World Championships with the USA U21 Youth National Beach Volleyball Team.
"It was so much fun playing overseas and competing for the United States against other countries," said Brown. "Sometimes we couldn't speak the same language, but we all shared a love of the sport."
The highlight of her sand volleyball memories may very well be during her first appearance as a middle blocker when she looked across the court to see three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh standing opposite her.
"This was my debut as a middle blocker on a six-person team and Kerri Walsh is opposite me," said Brown. "As if I wasn't nervous enough, there is an Olympic champion facing off against me," she joked. "It was really fun though. Every time I would hit a ball or block a shot my team would go crazy for me because I was playing against a three-time Olympic gold medalist."
Now entering her final year at Notre Dame playing indoor volleyball, Brown took the summer to hone her outdoor skills, while also preparing for the upcoming indoor season.
Competing with a pair of partners that play volleyball at the collegiate level, Brown participated in beach volleyball tournaments almost every weekend up and down the coast of California. The league that plays host to all these tournaments is the California Beach Volleyball Association or CBVA. The organization offers tournaments that are "A", "AA", "AAA" or "Open," with the rule of thumb being that the higher the rating, the tougher the competition.
With Emily Rottman, a senior libero at ACC foe Virginia, as a partner, Brown and Rottman won the Santa Barbara "A" Tournament handily to earn their "AA" rating. Then for much of the summer the duo competed in the open tournaments, often against local high school players, fellow collegiate standouts or ex-professionals.
"I'm excited to play against Emily this year," said Brown. "We have been playing together since we were 12 and we had a blast this summer competing in so many tournaments."
Later in the summer Brown teamed with Katie Spieler, a sophomore sand volleyball player at Hawaii, to take third or fifth (Brown wasn't concerned with remembering, saying that the tournaments are "for fun and improving your skill level") at a San Diego open tournament.
Now Brown looks to transition her summer sand experience to the Notre Dame indoor court where she hopes to have a big impact from the right side this season. A converted setter, Brown has shown the ability to hit for power, set and even play some defense throughout her career. Entering her final year, Brown has 1,464 assists, 411 digs, 89 kills, 57 service aces and 49 blocks.
Brown thinks that her experience outdoors can only help her indoor game. She has learned that while the indoor game can become a bit specialized with six players on the court, the outdoor game requires participants to be comfortable in every role since there are only two on the court.
"I really enjoy the outdoor game and like playing it as practice for the indoor game because it forces you to feel comfortable all over the court. You have to be able to serve, set, attack, block and dig and also have a teammate that can do the same."
She also thinks it helps her vertical jump, pointing to the heavy resistance the sand provides.
"Transitioning to the indoor game is really fun because you feel like you are flying across the court and jumping really high when you get back onto the indoor court," said Brown.
The indoor game also allows participants to avoid the environmental factors such as sun, wind and sand temperature that the outdoor game demands.
Following graduation Brown would like to use her final year of eligibility playing sand volleyball. Despite playing four years of indoor volleyball at Notre Dame, she could play one season of beach volleyball since it is considered a separate NCAA sport. Brown would use the year of eligibility to work on an advanced degree.
"It would be a cool experience to be able to extend my career by playing a year of sand volleyball," said Brown. "It would only add to my college experience and also allow me to work towards a post-grad degree."
Brown and the Irish kick off the 2013 season next Friday in Murfreesboro, Tenn., at the Blue Raider Bash. Notre Dame meets ACC foe North Carolina in a non-conference match.
The Irish continue their preseason work Thursday with two practices at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
-- Russell Dorn