The sport of beach volleyball, already popular among indoor volleyball players at many Orange County high schools, is now sanctioned by the Southern Section of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF SS), the governing body for close to 600 high schools in the region.
Membership in the CIF-SS means beach volleyball players can represent their schools in competition, receive some financial and in-kind support from their schools, earn scholarships and compete for championships.
Trinity League high schools Rosary, Santa Margarita, Mater Dei and JSerra all fielded beach volleyball teams in Spring 2022, the sports inaugural season in the CIF-SS.
Up until this spring, Mater Dei fielded a club beach volleyball team.
“There is so much more to offer with beach than there was before,” Mater Dei beach volleyball coach Jacqui Wood said. “It was just fun but now there are scholarship opportunities and there is an opportunity to win a championship for the school.”
Some indoor players have played beach volleyball informally or on club teams but playing on a school team and wearing school colors can be more rewarding, Rosary assistant coach Chloe Johnson said.
“Obviously, you want to represent your school in a good way and it’s fun to be around your peers,” said Johnson, who plays beach and indoor volleyball at Fullerton College. “We’re lucky we’ve got such a good group of girls and the staff is really supportive. It’s a really great environment.”
In 2012, beach volleyball was sanctioned by the NCAA as a collegiate sport for women at a small number of schools.
Today, there are close to 100 NCAA member institutions offering beach volleyball, with dozens offering scholarships.
Beach volleyball is also contested in the Olympics and at the professional level.
The Association of Volleyball Professionals, commonly known as the AVP, is making 16 tour stops from May through November with $2 million in prize money on the line.
“I’m actually shocked we didn’t make it a CIF sport sooner because it was an NCAA sport and it’s one of the more popular Olympic sports,” said Santa Margarita coach Macy Jerger, a member of the AVP and four-year player at Florida State University. “It’s always really fun to play for your high school. I’m just happy to be here at Santa Margarita making history.”
Beach and indoor volleyball are similar but different.
The indoor game is contested with teams of six players on each side.
The beach game is played similarly to high school tennis, with three pairs of players from each team playing three pairs from the opponent’s team in six two-on-two matches.
The team who wins the most two-on-two matches wins the entire match.
In the indoor game, players typically have specific roles as blocking, hitting, setting and digging.
But on the beach, players take on all roles.
Some players say the beach game helps with their indoor game.
MATER DEI’S TAWNY ENSIGN DELIVERS A KILL DURING A RECENT BEACH VOLLEYBALL MATCH BETWEEN THE MONARCHS AND ROSARY. FOR THE FIRST TIME, BEACH VOLLEYBALL IS SANCTIONED CIF-SS SPORT. PHOTO COURTESY OF LOU PONSI/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
“It’s understanding how to use your body and knowing how to do every skill on the court and then going beyond that,” Wood said. “It is not just setting, passing and hitting. You are running around on an uneven surface that is giving out on you and there are the elements outside.”
Santa Margarita’s Grace Jackson said beach volleyball sharpens her overall volleyball IQ.
“In indoor, I’m a middle (blocker),” Jackson said. “You don’t really play back row or do passing that much. Having the ability to do that, it strengthens my abilities as a player overall. It helps so much.”
Currently, the number of CIF-SS member schools with beach volleyball make up less than 20 percent of the number needed to have organized CIF-SS playoffs and CIF-SS playoffs will be contested.
But until then, some leagues, including the Trinity League, organized their own playoff competition.
The Monarchs’ sister-tandem of Tawny and Skylar Ensign captured first place as the best pairs team in the Trinity League.
“It’s nice to see it growing as a sport,” said Tawny Ensign who has accepted a scholarship to play beach volleyball at Tulane University.
For now, only JSerra and Santa Margarita have beach courts on their campuses.
Rosary plays home matches at nearby Fullerton College and Mater Dei plays on the Newland Street Courts in Huntington Beach.
Having CIF-SS affiliation could prompt other schools to construct sand courts on their campuses, Jerger said.
“We’re spoiled,” the coach said. “We are so lucky to have these courts here. We are so lucky that we don’t have to go anywhere. They can just leave class and walk out here. We are just very, very fortunate. We always get compliments. Every time we have a home match, the other team and coach say, Oh my gosh. We love your courts. Hopefully, it will make other people want to get courts on campus and we’ll grow the sport even more.”