Report: Gators spotted on the Siesta Key Beach!

Typical things people worry about at the beach: sharks in the water, seagulls swooping for food, stepping on a jelly fish, getting sun burnt, and Gators… Wait Gators?

Yes, Gators. The Florida Gators to be specific, as they enter the third annual Fiesta at Siesta Beach Volleyball Tournament on Saturday.  Last year Florida finished as runner-up to Southeastern Conference foe LSU in the Commissioners Cup (The Team Competition) and is primed for another shot at the title this weekend.

Competing in the top division of the Individual SEC Coaches Competition is the returning championship pair of Kelly Murphy and Kristy Jaeckel from 2010.  Last year the dynamic duo played fellow Gators Callie Rivers and Lauren Bledsoe in the final match of the Gold Level Division and won a close contest.  Murphy and Jaeckel are undoubtedly the favorites to repeat again this year on the sands of Siesta.

Florida’s other pairings will be: Stephanie Ferrell and Taylor Unroe, Chanel Brown and Sundai Weston, Cassandra Anderson and Betsy Smith, Holly Pole and Elissa Hausmann, Chloe Mann and Tangerine Wiggs. UF alumnae Lauren Bledsoe and Erin Fleming will compete in the Senior Division.

Florida associate Head Coach David Boos is looking forward to the chance for the Gators to compete.

“Players have been given the opportunity to create their own teams throughout practice this week,” Boos said “The freedom to choose your partner puts this weekend into perspective, yes it’s a competition but winning doesn’t seem to be the only thing the team hopes to accomplish.

So where exactly is the team’s mindset, on a fun filled day at the beach or coming home with the yet another championship for the Gator Nation?

“A little of both,” said Boos. “They’re going to have some fun in the sun, and a nice day at the beach, but our players are competitors, they want to win.”

“As the day goes on, and we get deeper into the tournament you’ll see them get more and more competitive, just watch.”

Outdoor volleyball has been an emerging sport in the collegiate world over the past few years, and has gained a lot of steam with supporters such as USA Volleyball (USAV), the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA), and the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP).  Outdoor volleyball is being given a chance as a Division I NCAA sport this upcoming fall semester.

Head coach Mary Wise and the University of Florida have always been heavy supporters of this push for outdoor volleyball’s recognition as a Division I sport.

“It’s great because it adds scholarships and gives potential student athletes a whole other avenue to go down,” explained Boos. “There’s obviously going to be some players that are naturally stronger with their outdoor game than their indoor. Two of the first three student-athletes to be awarded sand volleyball scholarships will be competing in the Fiesta at Siesta Tournament.”

After almost being struck down by the NCAA Board of Directors by a vote of 166 yes to 118 no in favor of the override with each institution holding one vote at the NCAA Convention, an override measure attempting to strike down the original addition of sand volleyball to the emerging sport list failed to pass with only 58.5 percent. The override measure needed a five-eighths majority, or 62.5 percent, to overturn the legislation.

Although the sport will finally get a chance to shine, even supporters understand it’s going to take some time to work through specifics and eventual problems during the first few seasons.  According to Boos, “Its success depends on a matter of how many schools decide to have a team early on, a lot of schools will hold off to see how the rules and game develop.”

However, enthusiasm for the sport far outweighs the worry.  Jason Hodell, who is the chief executive officer of the only active professional volleyball league in the United States in the AVP, has gone on record saying, “NCAA sand volleyball will grow our beautiful sport tremendously and provide wonderful opportunities for women to participate in collegiate athletics.”

Whether this Saturday’s Tournament is considered a competition, celebration or both; one fact stands still, it’s going to be a great day of beach volleyball for spectators and athletes alike.  The future of this sport is bright and it will be exciting to follow its development in the coming years.

The Fiesta at Siesta Beach Volleyball Tournament starts Saturday, April 16 at 9:00 a.m.

Schools competing include: Ave Maria, Florida Atlantic University, Florida Christian College, Florida Gulf Coast University, Jacksonville University, Lake Sumter Community College, Louisiana State University, Savannah College of Art & Design, St. Petersburg College, State College of Florida, Trinity College of Florida, University of Central Florida, University of Florida, University of Miami, University of North Florida, Warner University and Webber International University.