A beach volleyball team in a city nowhere close to a beach could come across as odd, but Missouri State has been doing it for what will be five seasons this year.
While the team is in the middle of a head coach search, Russ Friedland, who is the assistant coach of the indoor volleyball team, was the coach last year.
He said playing beach volleyball this far north presents some unique challenges.
“The biggest thing is exposure to the sport,” Friedland said. “When you go out to the West Coast, East Coast or even the Gulf shores there’s courts all over the beach. While that is slowly happening (in Springfield), it is still small.”
Even if people have been exposed to the sport, there is no guarantee they will be able to play outside in-season.
“The weather is a big deal,” Friedland said. “There was a three-week stretch last season when the Midwest was too cold and we could not practice outside. We taped off the dimensions of a sand court inside and did a bunch of passing, hand-setting and other basic things. That was it.”
Once the weather does improve, it still takes time to move on from being indoors.
“When we did get outside, it took them three or four practices to get their sand legs back,” Friedland said.
Despite all of those issues, Friedland said the players at Missouri State are as committed to the sport as those in the South. Last year the team went 7-8 in their season, with three of those losses coming to teams ranked No. 13 or higher, with one being to No. 2 Louisiana State.
Friedland said the team has good leadership out of senior Kylee Davis and juniors Grace Cook and Chloe Tome.
Davis spent most of the fall of 2020 missing practice due to repeated COVID-19 contact tracing events, but she emerged to have a strong spring season.
Cook and Tome hold the program record for the most single-season wins, after going 12-3 together in 2021.
“They’re roommates and they’re great friends,” Friedland said. “They asked me to play together this year, and I was initially hesitant. When someone plays with the person they live with, I was waiting for their relationship to unravel. But it went amazingly well.”
The team’s season will likely begin in early March 2022. They play a few home games right next to Hammons Student Center on campus, but most will be at tournaments along the Gulf Coast.
A new head coach has not been announced at the time of printing.
Follow Stephen Terrill on Twitter, @stevethe2nd
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