(Xavier Prep's Kristen Largay attempts to pass the ball to teammate Lexi Ham during a match this season. Photo courtesy of Todd Braun.)
Xavier Prep’s girls sand volleyball coach Jeff Rogers is all in for pushing his sport toward legitimacy.
But for that to happen Rogers needs more aces to help complete the full house that sand volleyball needs to go from emerging sport to a bona fide Arizona Interscholastic Association member. For the queens of Arizona’s high school indoor volleyball who haven’t yet set foot on the sand, Rogers is extending his hand out, inviting them to join the fun in the sun.
“Yes, we want you Gilbert,” Rogers said. “Yes, we want you Desert Vista, Deer Valley, Horizon. We want you to come out and play.”
But this story just isn’t about Xavier Prep and the rest of the pioneers of girls high school sand volleyball in Arizona seeking more competition.
Rogers and his girls are also embracing the role of sand volleyball ambassadors. Three years ago, the AIA became the first state high school sports association in the nation to usher in sand volleyball.
So far, Xavier Prep is the king of the emerging sport after winning the first two state championships. It’ll go for the three-peat Wednesday at Glendale’s Victory Lane Sports Complex, where Xavier Prep won its state quarterfinal match Tuesday.
But winning titles isn’t what Rogers and his girls are just chasing.
“(Xavier Prep’s players) want to make it better for the next group of teams that want to sign up,” Rogers said. “We take a lot of pride not just for being state champs but for also helping the sport grow. It takes a lot of commitment and effort from the players and their parents. There’s a real push to keep the sport growing.”
Sand volleyball started with about five teams in Year 1 of this high school sports experiment, grew to eight teams last year and now is up to 12. Rogers is hearing that Gilbert, one of the indoor powers, might sign up next year.
College scholarships for sand volleyball are serving as an impetus for getting more girls on the sand, Rogers said. The benefits of playing sand volleyball are immeasurable for a player.
(Xavier Prep's Natalie Braun spikes the ball during a match with her doubles partner, Claire Cappola. Photo courtesy of Todd Braun.)
Besides helping improve your hops for the indoor game, sand volleyball players tend to develop into dual threats since they have to play multiple positions on the sand. For programs that are concerned about the costs of running a sand volleyball team, Rogers said schools can run a sand volleyball team for as little as $200.
And for those who want to see first hand the fruits of the players’ labor and benefits of playing the sport, head to Victory Lane Sports Complex Wednesday to see the state semifinals and final. In the process, you’ll catch the players and coaches who are setting the foundation for the high school sport locally and nationally.
“(Assistant coach Tim) McHale and I are excited to provide the girls an opportunity to do something incredible,” Rogers said. “To start a sport in the U.S. is an honor. To be a part of that and see it grow, it’s a very cool feeling.”
State sand volleyball semifinal, final schedule
Wednesday at Victory Lane Sports Complex
Semifinals, 3 p.m.
No. 1 seed Xavier Prep vs. No. 4 Queen Creek
No. 2 Scottsdale Prep vs. No. 6 Fountain Hills
Winners face off at 4:30 p.m. for the title.