Sand volleyball has become an equalizer — being tall no longer serves such a huge advantage as it does in indoor.
The Cal sand volleyball team continues its debut season when it hosts USF (0-0) on Friday at 3:30 p.m. at the Clark Kerr Sand Courts. The Bears (1-1) are fresh off of their first win of the new season, sweeping San Jose State last week, 5-0.
With a roster made up primarily of players from the Cal indoor volleyball team, the new pairs for this inaugural season are just getting used to the transition from indoor to sand. Dubbed “Team Jets” for their speed, two such players are freshman Maddy Kerr and sophomore Nikki Gombar.
“It’s not as tough for us (to transition to sand) as some of the taller girls who really need to learn how to move well because that’s how we are in indoor too — we’re the people who move well and cover a lot of ground,” Kerr said. “In comparison to the rest of them, I think that’s our strength.”
The quickness of the two ensures that they are mostly a defensive team, able to easily reach opponents’ shots and digs. Kerr finished the indoor season ranked ninth in the Pac-12 with 3.71 digs per set and was named to the Pac-12 All Freshman Team. She also tied the school record with 33 digs against a single team. Kerr’s indoor position of libero gives the pair an advantage on defense, but it also means she has to spend more time learning how to play offense.
“We’re working on our offense,” Kerr said. “Nikki’s good, but I still make a lot of errors offensively because I’m not used to hitting. You don’t have a strict spot that they put you in — it’s like if you see the ball, go play it.”
Both Kerr and Gombar have little competitive experience when it comes to sand volleyball, much like most of the team. While Kerr grew up in San Diego and essentially learned how to play volleyball on the sand, the moment she switched to indoor, she was strictly an indoor player. Gombar only played sand volleyball when she was with friends and dabbled a bit last season. Now, the two are learning together the difficulties that come with competitive sand volleyball.
“Running on the sand is obviously hard,” Gombar said. “Your footwork is different, and your approach. Defensive moves like getting back is different than indoor.”
With just three weeks of practice, the pair is one of the teams taking on USF on Friday. Last week’s sweep against the Spartans also served as Cal’s first win of the season, but the match did not provide as much competition as the Bears would have liked. Friday’s game is expected to be more competitive than last week’s match, and in preparation for this game, Kerr and Gombar, along with the rest of the Cal team, have constantly been playing against one another.
“We’ve gotten better fast,” Kerr said. “I think that when you haven’t had a lot of experience with something, you have so much potential to grow really fast — that’s what our whole team’s been doing. Everyone has gotten so much better in just a couple of weeks.”
Contact Alicia Fong at [email protected]