Check in on the University of South Florida volleyball team during normal practice times on a Friday this spring, and you're bound to walk into an empty gym. It's not an off-day, but it won't stop the Bulls from enjoying some sun.
USF opened up its traditional Friday sand practices, hitting the courts on campus for two-on-two competition, something the Bulls have been doing during the spring season for about four years now.
"It's a great cross-training opportunity for us," associate head coach Nikki Shade said. "Once the NCAA started exploring sand volleyball as an emerging sport, a lot of schools began looking into it as well."
With sand ball being such a different game from the indoor variety, the team moves away from the usual six-on-six drills, instead playing doubles on a smaller court. The fundamentals of the sport remain, however, as the outdoor court requires more of an all-around game.
"Even though it seems similar to observers, it's actually a very different sport," Shade said. "Training in the sand helps a lot with increasing verticals and improving agility. It's very difficult to move in the sand, so when players start to understand how to fire the muscles needed to move, it really carries over to their indoor game. The explosive movement the sand requires really translates well when the team goes indoors."
For three weeks, the team will go directly from the sand practice into an indoor tournament, but the Bulls' final week of practice will only consist of outdoor practices, as USF prepares for its annual end-of-the-season sand tournament at Siesta Keys.
"We have a good progression of our indoor tournaments becoming increasingly difficult, and then we wrap things up at Siesta Key," Shade said. "Again there's good competition, so we'll be working on things that can help us indoors, but also the players are having fun. The good thing is, while they're having "fun," they're still getting better at all their base skills."
The outdoor practices began when the NCAA created a provisional sand season, exploring the idea of making it a sanctioned collegiate sport. While Shade says there are no immediate plans for USF to add this as an intercollegiate sport, outdoor practices won't be something the team will readily give up anytime soon.
"They really enjoy it, it's something different for them, but they're still getting to train," Shade said. "It's still intense, but you can't beat the weather and the environment we've had here."