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Adding women’s sand volleyball a no-brainer for the Arizona Wildcats

RELATED: Andy Morales: Why not sand volleyball in Southern Arizona high schools?

Misty May-Treanor

Misty May-Treanor, spiking the ball here in the gold-medal match last summer, helped popularize sand volleyball. Photo by Matt Kryger-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats are adding a new sport that will debut in the spring of 2014 — women’s sand volleyball.

Makes sense.

Sand volleyball is gaining in popularity, boosted by Olympic exposure and the star United States team of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, which won three gold medals. And it’s a fast-growing college sport, having made its debut in the 2011-12 school year.

The NCAA allows a total of six scholarships for the sport, which can be split among the roster. Sand volleyball helps keep Arizona in compliance with the gender equity required by Title IX and provides a sport that should be a lot of fun to catch under the Tucson sun from March to May.

What’s not to like?

There will be 29 teams competing in sand volleyball this season — including Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC from the Pac-12 — with another 47 considering adding the sport for the 2014 season, according to a UA release.

Just last week, Nebraska became the first Big 12 program from the Big Ten to sponsor sand volleyball.

A sport can reach NCAA status after 40 teams have competed for two consecutive seasons. So, the first NCAA championship figures to be held in 2016. Pepperdine beat Long Beach State last spring for the first college championship, which was held in Gulf Shores, Ala., and sponsored by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

“This is an exciting day for the University of Arizona and our volleyball program,” athletic director Greg Byrne said in a release. “With our strengths as an athletics department — including strong indoor volleyball, great interest from our fans and weather that is very conducive to outdoor activity — it’s a natural fit for us.”

Steve Walker, currently an assistant for the women’s indoor team, will be the program’s first coach. Arizona has not specified where home matches will be played.

Arizona last added a sport in 1998, when it began to sponsor women’s indoor track and field.

Read some Twitter reactions here.

Here is the full release from Arizona:

TUCSON, Ariz. – University of Arizona director of athletics Greg Byrne today announced that the department has added women’s sand volleyball as a varsity sport.

The sport, which enjoys a spring competition schedule, would be the 20th varsity sport sponsored by the department. Steve Walker has been named the new program’s first head coach.

”This is an exciting day for the University of Arizona and our volleyball program,” said Byrne. “With our strengths as an athletics department – including strong indoor volleyball, great interest from our fans and weather that is very conducive to outdoor activity – it’s a natural fit for us.”

Walker, currently UA’s indoor volleyball associate head coach, will serve as the program’s first leader. He served as an assistant coach with the Wildcats for three seasons from 2003-05, helping to lead the program to three NCAA Tournament appearances, including a trip to the Elite Eight in 2005. He left Arizona after the 2005 season to become the women’s volleyball head coach at UC Davis, where he has coached for two seasons before returning to Arizona in 2007.

“I would like to thank Greg and all involved for this opportunity to be the first-ever head sand volleyball coach here at the University of Arizona,” said Walker. “Throughout this hiring process it is evident that this athletics department is excited about bringing an emerging sport like sand volleyball to this campus and community and plan to grow with it in the coming years.”

“Sand volleyball is one of the fasting growing sports in the country,” said deputy director of athletics Rocky LaRose. “With growing national interest, and in particular within the high school ranks in the state of Arizona, this was a natural fit. In fact, Arizona is the first high school interscholastic association to add sand volleyball as an official varsity sport. I’m excited for the new opportunities for our women, and thrilled to continue to grow our women’s programs.”

At UC Davis, Walker became the Aggies’ eighth head volleyball coach, guiding the program through its final year of reclassification to NCAA Division I status in 2006, and during its first year of membership in the Big West Conference. During his tenure at UC Davis, Walker was selected to coach the Northern California Volleyball Association Youth Division team at the Global Challenge in Maribor, Slovenia, during July of 2006. In 2010, he was invited back to coach the NCVA Youth team at the USA Volleyball High Performance Championship in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Walker received his “AAA” rating, the highest level pro/am rating as a player in the California Beach Volleyball Association series from 1997-99, and multiple times he was an Arizona Beach Volleyball Association tournament winner from 2003-06.

A collegiate volleyball player at Long Beach State, Walker finished his career as the school’s all-time leader in assists per game. The starting setter for two seasons, he was named AVCA All-America and All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in 1995, after leading the NCAA in assists and assists per game.

“We’re fortunate to have Steve as our first head coach,” said David Rubio, Arizona’s indoor volleyball head coach, “He has a strong background in sand volleyball, and will put us a step ahead of many programs right from the start.”

Women’s sand volleyball is an emerging sport worldwide – as witnessed by its success at recent Olympic Games – and within NCAA circles. Fifteen universities sponsored the sport in 2011-12, its inaugural year, and 29 will compete in 2012-13. Further, 47 schools are considering sponsorship in 2013-14.

In order to be an officially sponsored NCAA championship sport, there must be 40 competing institutions in two consecutive seasons. Within the Pac-12 Conference, four schools presently sponsor the sport (California, Stanford, UCLA, USC) with at least one other member considering adding the sport.

Additionally, Arizona was the first state in the nation to add sand volleyball as a high school varsity sport in 2011-12 with California following in 2012-13. Currently, there are more than 350 youth club participants in the sport in the Arizona region.

Sand volleyball was added by the NCAA in August 2011 for Division I competition. The roster size in this sport will grow as the number of scholarships increase and will have a maximum roster size of 14 student-athletes by 2014-15.

Sand volleyball features five two-woman teams ranked by ability, and each duo plays against the corresponding team or teams from other schools. In a dual meet, the winning team is the school winning three of five matches. Individual matches are two sets played to 21 points, with a tiebreaker set to 15, if needed. All sets are rally scoring and must be won by two points.

The sport is the first added by the University of Arizona since women’s indoor track and field in 1998. Previously, Arizona added women’s soccer in 1994.

Arizona currently sponsors 11 women’s sports (basketball, cross country, golf, gymnastics, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field and volleyball) and eight men’s sports (baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, swimming and diving, tennis and outdoor track and field).

Arizona has won 21 national championships and 118 conference titles in its athletic history.

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