In response to an NCAA self study conducted at the end of last year, the department of athletics has decided to add a 17th varsity sport in beach volleyball.
“We really had to analyze our department from top-to-bottom and one of the key takeaways is that we are not as compliant with Title IX as we need to be,” said director of athletics Lee De Leon.
ACU is required by the NCAA to meet at least one prong of a three-part test which analyzes proportionality, accommodation of interest and expansion of opportunity. De Leon said in compliance with the NCAA, athletics plans to hit the expansion of opportunity prong by adding beach volleyball. This prong is satisfied by demonstrating a continual expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex.
“We haven’t added a sport since 2007 when we added women’s soccer so it has been almost 10 years,” De Leon said. “And so that’s the prong we’re going to hit to comply with Title IX, is the expansion of opportunity.”
De Leon said athletics has explored the idea to add beach volleyball and women’s golf, but volleyball makes more sense based on expenses and popularity around the NCAA.
“Beach volleyball makes a lot more sense right because we can take the same student-athletes and the same coaching staff and have them play and coach beach volleyball without having to add scholarships or add salaries,” De Leon said.
Beach volleyball will also not require a new building, as the Student Recreation and Wellness Center has partnered with athletics to demolish the outdoor basketball court and replace it with sand and nets. De Leon said once the court is finished it will be open to all of campus, with athletics having priority for games and practices.
With the addition of beach volleyball in 2018, ACU will become the fifth team in the Southland Conference to field a team and there are over fifty Div. 1 programs across the NCAA. Assistant volleyball coach Breann Nesselhuf will handle the head coaching duties for beach volleyball, as she will join head women’s basketball coach Julie Goodenough as the only woman head coaches.
“Beach volleyball is where my heart is pulled and it is such an exciting opportunity to be able to build this program,” Nesselhuf said. “I am excited for the challenge and looking forward to the personal and program growth the lies ahead.”
Because the team will be made up of the indoor team, Nesselhuf said recruiting could look a little different, but the hope is to have each team compete the best it can.
“Beach requires a different skill set but we are still focused on recruited talented athletes to compete at the highest level for both beach and indoor,” Nesselhuf said. “We have already started contacting beach players and clubs in Texas that have beach training as well. Word travels fast in the volleyball world and we are already starting that recruiting process.”
Initially Nesselhuf said she wants the focus to remain on the indoor team as the beach program is being built up and while a sixth beach volleyball another team is added in the Southland Conference. Once a sixth team is added, the Southland would be eligible to send a participant to the NCAA Tournament.
“My current and short term expectations for our beach program is to help our indoor players become better volleyball players which will help us consistently win the Southland Conference and compete at the national level for indoor,” Nesselhuf said.
Aside from patiently waiting for a sixth team, Nesselhuf said the two sports are very different and will take some time to transition to a beach volleyball environment.
“Beach is a lot more about control and accuracy whereas indoor is about speed and power,” Nesselhuf said. “It is not an easy transition for most players from indoor to beach but the benefits exceed the initial frustrations and learning curve of the game.”
Freshman libero Amanda Chapa is fourth in the conference with 4.93 digs per set and has helped the Wildcats to a 6-4 conference record so far this season, which has them in fifth place as of Tuesday.
Chapa said she played beach volleyball for two years in high school, which she thinks made her a better all-around volleyball player.
“Learning to take more ownership for every ball we touch in the gym from here on out will be crucial because on the sand especially, every ball has to have a purpose,” Chapa said. “I think we also have to start weening off as seeing ourselves as only an ‘outside hitter’ or a ‘setter’ or ‘defensive specialist’ because beach volleyball will combine all positions into one real quick.”