Boise State's newest program hits the sand

The women's sand volleyball team begins its inaugural season Friday in Sacramento.

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comApril 1, 2014 

— When he graduated from college, Shawn Garus had one career in mind: Professional sand volleyball player.

Coaching, however, delivered steadier paychecks. Now Garus, who played five AVP Tour events, is combining both as Boise State's volleyball coach.

Garus and the Broncos will play their first-ever sand volleyball matches Friday in Sacramento, Calif., against Saint Mary's (4 p.m.) and Cal Poly (7 p.m.).

"It's been created to help volleyball programs grow, and we're excited about it," said Garus, in his fifth season at Boise State.

The transition from the gym to the sand hasn't been seamless. Players are eager to leave the knee pads and ankle braces in their lockers, but haven't always remembered their sunglasses. Garus and his staff are still working on optimizing the schedule, fitting recruiting and indoor practice around the new endeavor.

Plus, the sports are pretty different, and the Broncos have a roster recruited for and experienced in the indoor version. The NCAA allows six sand volleyball scholarships, but Boise State isn't offering any.

"When you move, you're carrying a bunch of sand with you. It's definitely hard to get into the rhythm of moving your feet and being able to pick them up quickly and get where you need to go," said sophomore Taylor Murphey during the Broncos' first dedicated sand practice Monday afternoon.

"Also, jumping, you feel like you weigh 100 pounds more than you did. Jumping is definitely a lot harder than in indoor."

The hope for Garus - and the reason the school added the sport - is the extra work translates into better all-around players and an improved indoor team. Indoor volleyball relies on specialization with constant substitution for certain roles. Sand volleyball is played with just two players on the court. Each must be able to dig, defend, spike and pass. There is no substitution.

"It'll make us a lot better. We'll be quicker, we'll jump higher, we'll improve because we'll know how to do more shots," freshman Laney Hayes said. "We'll broaden our game."

About half of the 13-member roster has experience in the sand game. Garus will lean on them as he constructs his five two-woman teams for competition. The pairings will be a work in progress. Garus expects to tinker, while searching for balanced teams.

"I don't think we'll have a dominant No. 1 team or a terrible No. 5 team. I think we'll try to field five decent teams that can work together and get better as the season progresses," Garus said. "You've got to find partnerships that can hide each other's weaknesses or help with their strengths."

No one, it seems, is quite sure exactly what to expect.

Everything is too new.

The Broncos' home courts are under construction so they'll be on the road for each match this season. Monday's practice was the first all-sand practice of the year, following six weeks of spring indoor practice and spring break.

Boise State plays five California schools this weekend. All have been practicing much longer.

"This is our first year, so I don't expect everything to be perfect," Murphey said. "But I want to have a good partner who is competitive and just win and be able to play hard.

"For the team, we're all excited to try something new. We're all ready to go out there and be competitive with each other, and try to win those top 10 spots."

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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