The University of Central Arkansas is heading to the beach this weekend in Tennessee to debut its newest sport.
Actually, it’s the sand and indoors at Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn., for the Governors Beach Duals beach volleyball tournament.
The Sugar Bears will play Carson-Newman and UT-Martin on Friday and Missouri Baptist and Austin Peay on Saturday.
The beach volleyball season consists of series of tournaments, one that UCA will host in late April.
"It’s really exciting, we’ve been talking about this being the inaugural season," said UCA head coach Jeni Jones Chatman. "There’s so much excitement, not just for the university, or the athletic department, but definitely for our staff and our players. This tournament will be a little bit different than out other ones, because it’s an indoor facility, which is obviously a lot different than what we’ve been practicing in, but it’s still on sand; it’s still volleyball, so we’re really excited."
The roster that Chatman will send into competition this season is a blend of current and former indoor players, as well as a handful of transfers. Kellen Dunn, Abbie Harry, Kristine Hjembo, Megan Nash, and Haley Tippett all contributed to the UCA indoor volleyball program’s run to the SLC Tournament quarterfinals in November, while Heather Schnars and Amy South each played in a pair of NCAA tournaments for the Sugar Bears and have beach eligibility. Transfers Kate Elman (Creighton), Stephanie Pollnow (Ouachita Baptist), MC Rogers (Hendrix), and Kimberly Schnars (Hope International) will help round out the roster, which is completed by freshman Mackenzie Dear of Conway.
"Heather and Amy have made a great transition to the beach program," said Chatman. "They’ve both picked up on the individual skill sets that they didn’t have to use while playing the indoor game. Amy’s never been an attacker so she’s had a great growing experience, along with Kate, who was a great libero at Creighton, so it’s been fun to watch that.
And even players like Heather and Stephanie, to see their game evolve and transform has been so great; and then a player like Mackenzie, who is our lone freshman, comes in with a bit of beach experience, but she’s already grown so much, so we’re excited to see her continue to grow throughout her career. I know that our players are so excited to finally get to perform against other teams, because we’ve been playing against each other for so long. It’s tough that we only get this one season with Kate, Amy, Heather and Steph, because it’s already been such a great experience, but we’re really excited about the season, and especially about getting to host our own tournament, even though it’s not until April."
Beach volleyball, which was named an emerging sport by the NCAA in 2009 and achieved official sponsorship status in 2016, features pairs play, in which two players from each team face off against each other in five ranked matches, similar to NCAA Tennis. The pairs play a best-of-three format, with each set requiring 21 points from the winning team.
UCA Sports Information contributed to this report