Junior duo emerge as team leaders on sand

Maikalina Madali

Sacramento State’s sand volleyball was a new concept for many of the members from the women’s volleyball team this semester, but juniors Katie Aprile and Kayla Beal took the sport in stride. 

Although the team as a whole finished with a 2-6 record, Aprile and Beal led the Hornets to a 5-1 record until the last matches of the season against University of San Francisco and Stanford, where they fell to 5-3.

“They worked really well together and developed a trust with each other,” said head coach Ruben Volta. “The style of play worked out really well. The type of ball Katie passed helped Kayla to option more and Kayla’s good at hitting the option.”

The two had strong chemistry on and off the court; however, the relationship was fostered way before they were paired up as Sac State’s top sand volleyball team.

As part of the Hornets’ new freshman recruits in the summer of 2010, Aprile, a communication studies major, and Beal, a civil engineering major, entered the volleyball program together.

Being new to the campus and not knowing many people, much like any freshman, the two became dorm roommates after training together for the volleyball team.

“We came in together, played club against each other (and) roomed together our freshman year where we got close and have been close since then,” Aprile said. “Our communication is really good on the court. You can just tell we’ve been friends.”

Unlike indoor volleyball with six people covering the court, sand volleyball works in pairs. Communication between two people becomes an important factor in the game.

Aprile said that reading the other team was much more difficult because the opposing hitter had the whole court to target – while one was blocking the hitter, the other had the responsibility of defending the rest of the court.

“Being able to talk well and work through stuff is important. If you can’t do that and you close in or get frustrated with each other, it’s not going to work very well,” Beal said. “There are only two of you. You are going to be involved in every play and you’re going to touch every ball. Having that communication and being comfortable with each other makes it so much easier.”

Because Aprile and Beal have had three years of experience in working with each other, they said the ability for them to play cohesively as a team was no issue. Their already-established friendship and the constant communication while playing was a key factor to their success.

“We can talk to each other on the court without even having to talk,” Aprile said. “I’ll tell her where to hit or I’ll mess up and she’ll know exactly what to do.”

Aprile and Beal played as the No. 2 team throughout the season; however, they were bumped up to the No. 1 team at the last second for the final set of away games. Although those two games ended in losses, the duo said they peg their season as an overall victory.

“No matter what, Katie and I played through whatever was getting us. If a team scored a point, it was ‘OK, let’s just get the next ball,’” Beal said. “We didn’t give them a lot of runs or opportunities to score. The games we barely lost. We just made more errors on our side.”

Beal, an outside hitter for the indoor team, had a total of 127 kills and finished with a .436 percent hitting average. Aprile, a defensive specialist and setter for indoor, picked up 112 digs. As a team, they had a total of 186 kills, 189 digs and 35 ace serves.

Both athletes agree sand volleyball has helped them grow substantially as players. The different skills learned in the sand have enhanced their skills for indoor volleyball.

“You have to be so much more aggressive in sand to play the balls. In indoor, that communication skill is going to help a tremendous amount,” Beal said. “In terms of physical skill, doing little things that we don’t really think about – even though our coaches have told us and we don’t understand it right away – sand helped us see the bigger picture and forced us to learn it quickly.”

The team is beginning to transition into indoor volleyball by holding individual practices. Each team member has two one-hour practices a week. Only four players are allowed in the gym at a time to get one-on-one practice with the head coach, two assistant coaches and a student assistant.

The coaches said they have already seen significant differences and improvement in part to sand volleyball.

“The communication is a lot better, which is great. You’re forced to have to communicate more when they’re just two of you playing doubles. That’s carried over instantly,” Volta said. “That was the first thing we noticed – how much the players talk. Also, attacking in the sand has really helped them get their feet to the ball and hit.”

Individually, Beal and Aprile have seen improvements in their own skill sets as well.

“It has definitely helped my serve receive passing for indoor. I got picked on a lot in (sand) serve receive because I’m the shorter player,” Aprile said. “That helped me grow as a player in not getting frustrated and getting a good pass. I can get to any ball on the court basically in indoor.”

From having to tread through sand to swifter movements on a solid surface, the two are realizing how much easier it is to work the court.

“It’s a huge difference in your mobility. You feel like you can move quicker,” Beal said. “For the first practice a lot of us were like, ‘Woah, we can jump and move so much better.’”

Although the season has come to an end, the players are ready to jump back into indoor.

“I’m kind of sad it’s over cause it’s nice to get outside and get a tan,” Aprile said. “Most of us have all been playing indoor since we were 12 or 13 years old. We’re so used to being inside everyday and being outside was a really nice change, but I’m excited to play indoor again.”

Beal said despite what the record says, the players are happy with the outcome and the experience was something new and exciting for the whole team.

The first official sand volleyball season was used as a learning and preparation opportunity for the players to develop sharper skills.

“It was great. All of our players got better and better as the season went on. It was a really good experience for all of them,” Volta said. “It’s only going to help their indoor and overall volleyball game.”


Maikalina can be reached on Twitter at @sh_sports