Two-thousand and sixteen marks the third year CSUN has sponsored the emerging sport of women’s beach volleyball and during that time there has been a learning curve for both the players and coaches.
Led by Head Coach Jeff Stork, who just concluded his 14th season as head coach of the indoor women’s volleyball team and enters his third as the beach volleyball head coach, the Matadors began the construction of their very first beach volleyball roster by acquiring a majority of their players from the indoor volleyball roster, which posed challenges transitioning from one sport to the other.
“The skill set is very different,” explained Head Coach Jeff Stork. “You have to be much more of an all-around athlete and I think players can develop that skill. We are still an indoor team that plays beach so I think all the athletes out there can adjust and adapt to the game. Where the deficiency lies is the fact they aren’t doing it 100% of the time. I think the teams that can generate quality athletes that play beach more often will be more successful than the teams who have good athletes but don’t play it all the time.”
Flash forward three years and CSUN now has its sights on players that have the desire to play beach volleyball and are also good indoor players. Stork has noticed the change in recruiting the past two years and predicts that the Matadors’ team will quickly become more of a beach volleyball team as opposed to an indoor volleyball team playing beach volleyball.
“We are actually now recruiting kids that have some kind of background and experience in sand volleyball,” stated Stork. ”The migration from recruiting players who thought they were only indoor players and the sand side of thing as a development for indoor is shifting to recruiting someone who wants to play beach. The players are into it and that is going to happen more and more.”
In addition to gaining interest from beach volleyball players, CSUN unveiled the Matadors Beach Volleyball Facility last year and that was a game changer for the beach volleyball program. The new state-of-the-art facility is one of the best in the nation and features three side-by-side sand volleyball courts. The facility was made possible through a partnership between California State University, Northridge’s Health and Human Development Department, Associated Students and CSUN Athletics.
Not only did it become a piece of eye-candy to entice future recruits, it became another stepping stone in the process of developing a high-caliber beach volleyball program. The addition of the new facility presents the opportunity for the Matadors to have the ability to practice in the same top-notch venue that they host contests during the season, in turn giving them something that was missing two years ago - home-court advantage.
“Our first season was a little rough because we did not have a sand court on our campus,” commented Stork. “We had to try to find a way to get on sand so we would go to state beach. Most of our practices were indoors with a raised net and a narrow court which certainly didn’t duplicate what you do with beach volleyball. “
The Matadors Beach Volleyball Facility may have solved the aforementioned problem, but there are still other obstacles the coaching staff must overcome. While many schools sponsoring both women’s indoor and beach volleyball have opted to hire separate coaches for their respective sports, CSUN is one of the schools where the head coach is responsible for both programs. Over the short span of the beach volleyball program, Stork has been lucky to have excellent assistant coaches but explains that there certainly is a lot more time involved when coaching both programs. Understandably, he admits to being spread thin during the spring season with beach volleyball in full swing during the prime recruiting season.
“The recruiting side of things could suffer,” mentioned Stork. “We have three to four Saturdays on our schedule that are booked. With the new structure of the junior club season, things will be compressed during the time I’m coaching making it difficult to manage the time for the competition side of beach and then also the recruiting for the indoor.”
Despite some of the challenges that Stork and the Matadors have confronted as they continue down the road of creating a high-caliber beach volleyball program on the CSUN campus, the staff and players are thrilled to have beach volleyball on campus.
“Beach volleyball is a wonderful game,” stated Stork.
And he would know, seeing how the Olympic gold medalist played seven years of 4-on-4 beach volleyball during his professional career.