DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Beach volleyball fun is within reach

What a difference a year makes.

When Xavier Prep held its first beach volleyball summer camp in 2017 on the school’s new Cavanaugh Courts, it had eight participants.

In 2018, those girls are back and brought a full contingent of players with them – 35 in all – as the (hopefully) future Gators stick their toes in the sand this week.

The camp began Monday (June 18) and runs through Thursday (June 21) and is led by XCP beach coach Tim McHale, assistant Kristen Preach and a handful of varsity players who will lead the team next spring.

Each day focuses on certain skills. During the first day, for example, it was passing the ball with consistency. The second day, service. The third day, hitting, along with photos and commemorative T-shirts. The last day was due to feature brief competitive matches.

“It’s a credit to these girls to wake up early (camp runs from 7-9:30 a.m.) and make sure they are hydrated,’’ said Preach, a former indoor player at Xavier and Grand Canyon University in Phoenix who also assists with Xavier’s indoor team.

“There are a lot of younger players (beginning with fifth graders to be in the next school year) and it’s cool to see. The game is growing so much.’’

There are a few players with club experience, but beach is a whole new game. Instead of six players on the court at a time, there only are two. There is a significant difference when it comes to strategy, where to move and being more athletic.

“It’s how you move in the sand, and the surface is an issue in itself instead of the wood floor,’’ Preach said. “The (beach) court is a bit smaller. You have to adjust your swing and there definitely are more contacts (with the ball). There’s not much standing around. And you find out that it’s still a game of momentum.’’

As the temperature rises, players are instructed to take frequent breaks and take on more fluid while resting in the shade of the fence that surrounds the courts as well as sitting under the blue Xavier canopies.

The smaller players are not as big or strong as their older sisters, but they did not shy away from the activity. They were there, diving in the sand and trying to get as much power on their swings and distance on their serves.

Good communication is essential for beach players. Calling for the ball – “mine, mine, mine’’ – and talking about which player is going where helps in achieving success.

McHale, who coached Xavier to six straight beach titles from 2012-17, explained terminology and had his varsity players demonstrate the differences in positioning for beach in contrast to indoor.

He said one of the most important things about setting is to try to position yourself by facing in the direction you want the ball to go. Your teammate knows where the ball is going, but the opponent might be a step or two behind.
Great job, campers and coaches !!

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