Bulls make mark on beach volleyball scene


Shun Graves

Branson’s Dylan Whisenant, right, looks on as opponent Monte Vista makes a shot at College of Marin, May 5, 2023. Branson and some other area schools have built beach volleyball programs.

By Shun Graves

Low-stakes and low-key, playing beach volleyball at College of Marin’s sand courts lacks the referees, scoreboards and cheering crowds of indoor volleyball.

Even so, it’s also just a different sport.

“There’s a different strategy. The rules are different,” Sadie Snipes said. “It’s not like beach volleyball and volleyball are the same thing. They’re two different sports.”

Many of the players from Branson’s state-title girls volleyball team have hit the sand this spring to boost their game. Some play competitive club beach volleyball; others do not. But all have developed some skills that translate to the indoor game, coach Michelle Brazil said.

“More touches are good,” she said. “It makes you become a little bit more strategic and understanding. You can’t have someone telling you what to do constantly. You’ve got to figure it out yourself. In some ways, that’s a really good thing to take indoors, although the sport is basically totally different.”

Here’s how beach volleyball differs. On a sand court, two players, not six, stand on each side, and there are no substitutions. That means each player needs to push a more versatile skill set and cover more ground.

“It’s definitely more taxing physically,” Dylan Whisenant said. “There’s just so much more court to cover on such a different surface. Sand is really tough, and it takes away a lot of your vertical and bounding distance when you’re running.”

It’s just great for the team environment.

— Sadie Snipes

Beach volleyball’s rules also vary considerably compared to the indoor game. Each side has no more than three touches on the ball. And players can’t be coached during matches, meaning they have to make split-second decisions on their own.

“For the most part, they’ve got to figure it out in the moment what their strategy is and what to do because we’re not allowed to speak to them,” Brazil said.

The conditions, the rules and the strategy combine for a very different — and mental — game.

“You work in a different way,” Eva Lacy said. “It’s more mental than indoor because there are only two of you, and the relationship with your partner is not like your relationship with your whole team.”

Unlike the Southern California and Santa Cruz leagues, beach volleyball in Northern California still lacks official sanction. Coaches contact each other to set up games, and the games themselves feel very casual. Up to four courts are active at a given time. Setting up each duel often depends on who showed up.

On Friday, Branson, Redwood and Danville’s Monte Vista showed up to the COM courts. With some players missing and amid rainy conditions, Brazil had to make some shuffles and ultimately didn’t challenge Redwood. (In one of the few matches so far this year, Branson defeated Redwood on April 21, though they were set to play each other again.)

The low stakes and the player-driven atmosphere have helped Branson put its mark in the sand. The sport has also given members of the girls volleyball team a chance to bond during the off-season after their historic run last fall.

“It’s just great for the team environment,” Snipes said. “It’s a lot of fun for us to all come here and do stuff as a team. We’re incorporating new freshmen on this team, also. It’s just really fun for the atmosphere.”