While girls’ beach volleyball continues to take off as a successful CIF and NCAA sport, some Long Beach boys’ volleyball coaches have wondered, ‘what about us?’
“I asked right away when girls’ beach volleyball became a thing, ‘boys too?’” said Millikan boys’ volleyball coach Matthew Johnson. “They said just girls’ for now since it’s already an NCAA sport for girls.”
“I knew because of Title IX and NCAA that beach volleyball was a lot easier of a sell for the girls because it’s already an NCAA sport,” added Poly coach Sidney Davidson. “That’s the main reason why I knew it wouldn’t become a CIF sport for boys. But when girls’ beach volleyball became a CIF sport for the 2021 season I thought, ‘what about the guys?’”
As alums from their respective schools, both Johnson and Davidson wanted to give the next generation of athletes the opportunity to play beach volleyball, regardless of it not becoming a CIF sport. The only problem was finding the right location with beach volleyball courts, which was a lot easier said than done.
That was until April of 2023 however, when Davidson received a call from LBCC Dean of Athletics Randy Totrop, who granted Davidson the use of the college’s sand beach volleyball courts.
“It was exciting,” said Davidson of getting the call. “[Totorp] had the same vision as us. He wants to grow this community and expose different schools to the sport and equipment that they have here at LBCC.”
This led to the creation of an eight-team boys’ beach volleyball league, who meet every Thursday at LBCC in a best-of-five between the schools’ five pairs of doubles. Davidson welcomed teams from surrounding cities to join the league such as Downey, Ghar, and Los Al, as well as Moore League teams Millikan, Poly, and Wilson.
“It was important for us to get as many Long Beach schools that we could get,” said Davidson. “If we can prove to CIF that there’s enough boys beach volleyball teams then they would have to make it a sport.”
Due to limited amounts of exposure, the majority of boys who only play indoor hadn’t gotten to experience beach volleyball before getting their first taste with this league. Davidson flashed a big grin as he explained what this new opportunity has been like for his young athletes.
“I’m happy because these kids are out here playing beach volleyball for the first time,” he said. “This is their first time ever being exposed besides watching it on television. I tell them that unless you go out and experience for yourself, you’re never gonna know. A lot of these kids would have never tried beach volleyball if we didn’t start this league up. This is only a touch of what is going on in the game and I think all of these Long Beach boys’ volleyball coaches are pretty much on the same page when we say we want to grow this sport.”
Using the same principles as indoor volleyball, beach volleyball offers more touches for players as pairs work together to cover more ground in contrast to their larger indoor teams. This also allows for smaller guys to get a chance to play at the net, such as Millikan libero Logan Gerard.
“It gives me a chance to hit because obviously as a libero I don’t get to hit a lot so it’s definitely fun to get that opportunity. It’s also super fun to move around in the sand. In indoor, when you dive it can really hurt, but in the sand you get to dive however you want and it’s really fun,” said Gerard.
“He’s a libero indoors but he’s just pounding on the net here,” said Johnson of Gerard. “You get someone like him with good ball control but maybe isn’t big enough to be a net player indoors but they can be a really good beach player. It opens opportunities for guys and they get to touch the ball more, so it’s just a more fun game.”
While beach volleyball not only sharpens these players skills, it could also be the solution to volleyball teams’ lack of off-season work.
Scheduling off-season practice has become difficult for volleyball coaches, as school gyms only have so much space to accommodate indoor sports to practice year-round. This often leaves non-club players out of the gym for long periods of time which isn’t ideal to the teams’ success.
“The biggest travesty though is that when the season is over, they don’t see an indoor court again until next season. They have no place to play legitimate volleyball for that long, and I don’t think you can get good that way,” said Johnson.
Johnson pitched the idea of potentially installing beach volleyball courts on Long Beach campuses as he believes it could benefit teams by allowing for more practice.
“When you have every other sport that’s able to practice year-round because there’s an appropriate facility to do it, I think that’s something that should be looked at for volleyball,” he argued. “Beach offers not just a way to play volleyball year-round, but it also offers a safer place because the sand is softer on their joints and a better surface for impact. Now you’re working on muscle groups that strengthen these players and get them ready for their indoor seasons while being able to compete in a beach season as well.”
Even Johnson found himself in the sand warming up with his players ahead of their matchup against Poly last Thursday, and says beach volleyball is a sport he’s still able to play with his old teammates. He attributes the soft surface of the sand as the reason he’s been able to continue to enjoy volleyball past his adolescent career.
“It’s really fun to play as a sport. It’s a great workout and it helps me stay in moderate shape. But better than anything, it’s a community,” Johnson said.
Both Johnson and Davidson say that they’ve seen their athletes conform to the rich culture of beach volleyball in Long Beach. Before their two teams faced off Thursday, players from either team even carpooled to LBCC, before sharing the court as opponents. Beach volleyball has offered these players new friendships and a new community in the same sport they all cherish.
Millikan outside hitter Luke Fleishman, who plays alongside Gerard, spoke about the beach volleyball community following the pair’s win against Poly.
“It really expands your skills and gives you a whole new skillset. With that also comes new opportunities and new people to meet. I think a whole other world has opened for me with beach volleyball.”
“Since they started playing beach volleyball here, I’ve seen them grow and become a lot better at more than just volleyball. It’s one of those things where individually they get better because they’re getting lots of touches, but also as a sport we just love beach volleyball. It’s part of our culture in Long Beach and I think it’s gonna help them become players, but also better people,” Davidson said.