Tucson has plenty of sand. Now it has sand volleyball.
The University of Arizona announced Tuesday that women's sand volleyball will be its 20th varsity sport, beginning in spring 2014.
The UA was motivated to add a women's sport at the relatively low price of about $200,000 per year.
"We've been looking at this for some time," UA deputy athletic director Kathleen "Rocky" LaRose said. "We want to continually expand the women's programs. We look at it from all angles: gender equity and fairness and Title IX."
Steve Walker, who served as an assistant coach for the UA indoor volleyball team from 2003-05 and again since 2007, was named the sand team's first boss. He'll hire an assistant in the fall.
"It's very exciting," Walker said. "Just playing it was something that years, ago, was something you did recreationally. Who would have ever thought this was something you can make a profession out of?
"I just couldn't be more excited. The U of A's always been my favorite place."
About the game
Here's a primer on the first new Wildcats sport since women's indoor track and field 15 years ago:
This is beach volleyball?
Yes. But the NCAA calls it "sand volleyball."
What are the rules?
Schools field five doubles teams and rank them No. 1 through 5. They play a best-of-three-sets match, with the first two sets to 21 and the third, if necessary, to 15.
The school to win three or more matches wins.
The NCAA mandates each school plays at least eight competitions during the season.
What will the roster look like?
The UA will split six full scholarships among as many as 15 players.
Players receiving sand volleyball scholarship money cannot play indoor volleyball. Indoor players, however, can play sand volleyball.
What about Walker?
Before Walker was a UA indoor volleyball assistant, he earned the highest rating in pro-am beach volleyball while playing in the California Beach Volleyball Association from 1997-99.
From 2003-06, he won Arizona Beach Volleyball Association tournaments.
"It's something I'm very proud of," Walker, the UC-Davis indoor coach from 2005-07, said of his beach accomplishments.
Where are they playing?
The team will play off-campus - perhaps at the Tucson Racquet and Fitness Club - for the first season while the UA builds a home facility.
The UA could build a home at the Jimenez Practice Facility, which once held football practice, or near the off-campus soccer and track facilities, LaRose said.
With desert sand?
Actually, special sand must be trucked in from California.
"We're learning all about sands," LaRose said. "It's more expensive than just going into the desert."
What about bikinis?
There are none. NCAA outfits are more modest than those in Olympic volleyball.
In what league?
The Pac-12 needs six sand volleyball teams to organize as a league; the UA is No. 5.
"I would bet that we're going to have six institutions in the Pac-12 by next year," LaRose said.
For the NCAA title?
Maybe. Sand volleyball is considered an "emerging sport" by the NCAA.
The NCAA will begin issuing a championship only after 40 schools participate in consecutive seasons.
Fifteen schools took part last year in the sport's first season, and 29 will compete this spring.
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