It took some time to bring the sands of beach volleyball to Utah. Which is understandable since Utah is better known for its snow, not sandy beaches.
But here it is and, says Mike Manczuk with Wasatch Beach Volleyball, “It’s growing.”
The game, as played today with four players and on a soft bed of sand, dates back to 1930 when a player, waiting for his six-man team, tried playing with just one partner on a California beach. It took off.
Here in Utah it wasn’t until the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta that the game first really caught the attention of volleyball devotees. It is different. There are no positions, no complex rotations, no Libero or player specializing in just defensive skills. Players are well-rounded. They can dig, serve, pass, set, attack, block and anticipate.
Players must be especially good at reading their partner’s moves will he or she block or not block, to which opponents will he or she serve or not serve and, most of all, he or she should be able to read a partner’s shoulder and arm swings on a return to set up a good defense.
It’s also important to read the opposition. For example, is one a bad passer or a bad hitter, and is one a good setter and or a bad setter. It all dictates which of the opponents should receive the serve and returns.
Four years ago, at the encouragement of Manczuk, Brent Cook, owner of the Sports Mall, put in six outside sand courts on the infield of a walking/jogging track. Cook said the courts are constantly busy.
And, he says, “I’m happy. It was a space that wasn’t used much, so when the concept came along, I jumped on it, and it’s paid off. For one thing, it’s a summer activity, and I love to see more activity in the summer.
“Also, it’s an exciting sport to watch.”
The fine, granular sand needed for beach volleyball was purchased at the conclusion of an out-of-state indoor event.
Currently, there are 41 sandy volleyball courts in Utah. The most, nine, are in Murray.
Aside from the two-person format and the sandy platform, there are other subtle differences.
— The court is open and the landing is soft.
— The court is smaller — roughly six feet narrower and three feet shorter. The reason is simple enough. Soft sand restricts movement, so the smaller court ensures longer rallies.
— Instead of four games to 25, with a fifth, a tiebreaker, to 15, they play two games on sand to 21 with the tiebreaker to 15.
— There are no special positions or rotations. Players cover the court as returns dictate alternating service and then moving to pickup returns and place setup as strategy dictates.
— The ball for beach volleyball is softer, lighter and larger. The lighter ball floats and brings into play, for the better players, the weather.
— Players communicate, like in baseball, with hand signals that dictate strategy.
— And, of course, beach volleyball is played mainly outdoors, although there are plans to place a couple of sand courts indoors for winter play in Salt Lake City.
Other than the above, the indoor and outdoor games are very similar in that after the serve each side has up to three hits to ground the ball in the opponent's court.
Also, the height of the net is the same — 2.43 meters or roughly 8 feet for men and 2.24 meters or roughly 7½ feet for women.
Some suggest, too, that beach volleyball is more exciting, that it requires more strategy and a certain amount of anticipation and a tremendous amount of teamwork.
Utahns will get a chance to see beach volleyball at its highest level this weekend.
Some of the country’s best players, as well as top local players, will converge on Liberty Park on Aug. 16 to 18 for the Salt Lake City AVP Open. It will be the first stop on a seven-tournament national schedule for the Association of Volleyball Professionals.
The event will feature 16 men’s and 16 women’s teams.
A qualifier will be held Aug. 14 and 15 at the Sports Mall, 5445 S. 900 East, headquarters of Wasatch Beach Volleyball.
Tickets will be available on-site at Liberty Park.
Prices will range from $10 for individual days to $60 to $70 for three-day tickets. Children 10 and under are free.
For information, visit avp.com.