Column: Sand volleyball has made huge strides in second season
Arizona sand volleyball player Kaitlyn Leary (13) sets up to tip the ball over the net during Arizona's 5-0 win against Tulane at Jimenez Field on March 7. Leary and the Wildcats have climbed to a top-10 ranking in just the program's second year.
Arizona sand volleyball is already making a name for itself in the sand volleyball community in just its second year as a program. The Wildcats started off their second season ranked 16th in the first-ever DiG Collegiate Sand Volleyball Poll.
In the three weeks since their season began, the Wildcats have climbed the ranks to the 11th spot while remaining undefeated.
The success of this Arizona team has a lot to do with the recruiting of athletes solely dedicated to sand volleyball, as opposed to last year’s roster, which was made up of mostly athletes competing in both indoor and sand volleyball. This season, only four of the 14 athletes on the roster compete in both indoor and sand volleyball for the Wildcats.
Arizona coach Steve Walker has done a phenomenal job bringing talented athletes to the program, some of which include Arizona’s No. 1 pair of Kaitlyn Leary and Madi Kingdon. This is in addition to partners and twin sisters Madison and McKenna Witt, who are in their second year with the program and made up half of last year’s sand-only athletes.
Leary comes from an indoor volleyball background, previously playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes before coming to Arizona this year to join the sand volleyball program. Transitioning from indoor volleyball to sand volleyball is a huge challenge; as Leary said, they are two entirely different games. Luckily for the Wildcats, Leary seems to be transitioning just fine.
Kingdon is in her second season with the sand volleyball team but played four years with the Wildcats as an indoor volleyball player. Although Kingdon is a multi-sport athlete, she has the talent and dedication is required to succeed in both sports.
The Kingdon/Leary duo has helped the Wildcats dominate their competition so far this season. The pair even took home the victory at the recent Cal Poly Pairs Tournament after winning a close championship match over the Witt twins (21-17, 17-21, 18-16).
Another athlete making the switch to sand from indoor is Emily Kiser, who played both indoor volleyball and sand volleyball for the Wildcats last year after transferring from Sacramento State.
This season, Kiser has decided to become solely dedicated to sand in her final year of eligibility, and she has already played a role in the Wildcats’ success while aiding in the sweep of Concordia last week, alongside partner Olivia Macdonald, to win 21-12, 21-10.
Having a roster of mainly sand-only athletes has clearly benefitted Arizona, which is 6-0 so far this season. Walker, as well as his athletes, agree that having a nearly full roster during fall practice has been a huge contributor to their success this spring.
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