Walk through McKale Center; look at the basketball court.
That big ol’ scoreboard sticks out.
Go out the back of Mc-
Kale, by the ticket office. Across the street is Frank Sancet Field, where the football team practices. Look to the right, catch a glimpse of Arizona Stadium, and its shiny Lowell-Stevens Facility.
Nearby are the Hillenbrands — the Aquatic Center for the swim team, the Stadium for softball.
Now, Sancet, Hillenbrand, McKale and company have a new neighbor.
And their welcome-to-
the-neighborhood gift basket is filled with 1,250 tons of sand.
Jimenez Field, which formerly housed football practice, is the home of Arizona’s newest program — the sand volleyball team.
And its new facilities are just about finished.
“It’s an absolute game-
changer,” said Steve Walker, the team’s inaugural head coach and a former assistant under Dave Rubio with the indoor team.
Walker’s McKale office overlooks his new stomping ground, where the old football offices used to be.
“This is like, I joke, this is like oceanfront property at McKale,” Walker said. “I couldn’t ask for a better spot.”
The team will hold its first-ever, official practice Wednesday, one year to the day the UA announced it’d be adding sand volleyball as its 20th varsity sport.
The season will open at Jimenez on March 7.
“Up to this point, we’ve been recruiting to kind of an idea,” Walker said. “Sketches, designs. We’ve talked about what it’s going to look like. But now we have it; it’s here; there’s evidence that the department is behind a new sport.”
The Star got a look the team’s new stomping grounds Wednesday. Here’s a look at what’s in store, in the sand and out of it.
The Wildcats will have a “grand opening” of sorts for the facility in their season-opening Red-Blue scrimmage on March 1.
In short, there’s a lot of it.
Trucked in from California, Jimenez has 1,250 tons of sand to play in, going 18 inches deep.
It wasn’t exactly ordered off Amazon.com either, so the “shipping and handling” was a hefty $250,000.
And it won’t be a yearly shipment, either.
“We have to make sure it’s maintained,” Walker said. “We’ll groom it, fill it, whatever we have to do. Making sure we water it, keeping it level.”
Like many baseball teams do in field upkeep, Walker plans to put his players to the task, too.
“I’ve always been a fan of how baseball has done that,” Walker said. “I think it’s good; it shows discipline.”
The nets aren’t up yet, but there will be four of them, across the middle of what will be four courts.
Each court has dimensions of about 53 feet by 26 feet.
Eventually, since there is so much available space at Jimenez, Walker said they might look into adding a fifth, “championship” court.
“I think from an aesthetic standpoint and a functionality standpoint, I can’t think of a better facility across the country,” Walker said.
There will be no admission fee, at least in the early going.
Seating will likely be metal bleachers, with shade, so fans can sit in the southwest and southeast regions of the courts. But that could change, depending on which court is picked to be the “featured” one.
Arizona’s facility might not be on a beach, but it can still feel that way — fans will be encouraged to bring towels to sit on and watch the competition, and music will be playing throughout.
“We’re trying to get that beach vibe going,” Walker said.
There are also plans for concessions and a team store.
- No, there won’t be bikinis. The Wildcats will wear dri-fit singlets, similar to the cross country uniforms, and shorts.
- The Wildcats have a roster of 13, eight of whom will be crossovers from Dave Rubio’s indoor team. Among them — Madi Kingdon, who was All-Pac-12 for the Wildcats in the fall; and Jane Croson, the Hawaii transfer who was an AVCA All-American in sand volleyball as a freshman for the Rainbow Wahine.
- Croson also won a gold medal in 2010 at the FIVB Youth (under 19) Beach World Championships in Portugal. Walker said that Croson is good enough to play open level (or professional) right now.
- Sand-exclusive players for the Wildcats include freshmen Sarah Seiber and twin sisters McKenna and Madison Witt, and junior Allie Cook.