photo/Wylie Mangelsdorf
photo/Wylie Mangelsdorf

With the flip of a switch, the lights start to come on. There is a glow coming from the untouched white sand. As the lights warm up, you can see the taut nets and thick ropes marking the edges of the courts. Music starts to blast, and the silence of the night is interrupted as players arrive to the sand volleyball courts. The party has begun.

Ten years ago, these courts were just a dream in the mind of head volleyball coach Mary Ann Sprague, who took the idea to Athletic Director Lee Ellis. “We all looked at all of our assets and wanted to decide where our opportunities to invest would have the most benefit,” Ellis said. “Why sand volleyball? We thought there’d be benefits for the volleyball program, for other sports with training, working with speed and agility in the sand. We hoped we could make a huge impact with the other students on campus as well.”

The athletics department realized that its money most of the time only benefits a small percentage of the students who attend Principia, and the sand courts would reach out to include the rest of the student population, as well as outside groups.

With the help of Peter Switzer, a contractor from St. Louis, the courts were built correctly. “We spent a lot of money on pretty darn good sand. It’s the best sand I’ve ever walked on,” Ellis said. “Even the deer are impressed with it; we can’t get them off.”

There is a new shower near the courts, as well as storage sheds for equipment that will soon be brought out to the courts. “We have spent a lot on our physical plant, and this is the best money we have ever spent,” Ellis said.

 

Students shared the same excitement for the sand courts. “I love it. I can be a reckless, crazy man and dive in the sand,” junior Kendall Shoemake said. As intramurals head in Student Senate last school year, he and the other house intramural heads made the decision to switch from softball intramurals to sand volleyball intramurals.

Softball intramurals seemed to be losing its competitive edge, while students were simultaneously falling in love with sand volleyball. “Principia has such nice facilities, especially with the new sand courts, and it would be a shame to take them for granted,” Shoemake said. “In the springtime, it brings a common place for a lot of people to go. You have your serious athletes and those who have never played sports in their life.”

Whether you are looking for hard competition or goofy fun, the sand courts are the place to be.

Junior Ariana Dale found herself going out to the sand courts two or three times a week to play volleyball. “It was a flexible thing where I could go play for 20 minutes or so before practice,” she said. Dale noticed how encouraging and light-hearted the environment was.

No one has ever been turned away from playing, even when competitive games were occurring. “I definitely think it’s a social place,” Dale said. “I would have no idea who was going to be there, but I could trust that I would know someone there.” The sand courts have also created a relaxed community feel where faculty and staff members can come and play as well. “Oftentimes, I played with many of my teachers,” Dale said.

Most people had only been down behind the outdoor tennis courts to use the skatepark or to play basketball. After the sand courts were built, however, the space was cleaned up and enjoyable. It became a popular place for people to come together after sports practices.

“The courts bring friends together to play beach volleyball, a socializing sport for anyone who likes to be active,” sophomore Matiss Klava said.

Having a small amount of volleyball background from his previous school, Klava was excited to use the new courts to learn more about the sport and start competing again. “It’s a place where I can go and play my favorite sport, hang out with friends, listen to music, and not worry about homework or school,” he said.

Within the last five years, sand volleyball has become an official Division I and Division II sport. Division III is hoped to designate it as an official sport, and if this is the case, Principia’s courts will be a highly valued venue in the area.

Image courtesy of Julia Suber