Team bound for Virginia Beach; players eye nationals
July 10, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
As Liberty University's beach volleyball team gears up for its final tournament of the summer, Saturday's and Sunday's Virginia Beach Open, four of its players have their sights set on the National Collegiate Sand Volleyball Association championships, July 24 in Long Beach, Calif.
Graduate student Mike Morrison and rising sophomore Aaron Brooks will represent the Flames' men's team at nationals, played on the same courts as the professional FIVB Grand Slam and World Series of Volleyball, scheduled for April 26-27.
"We're really excited about nationals," Liberty Head Coach Rachel Willis said. "We'll be getting there a couple days before the tournament so we'll be able to get some lessons from pro beach volleyball players. That's going to be a really great experience, for me and the athletes."
On Monday, July 21, Morrison and Brooks will have their first practice session with professional Eric Fonoimoana, a gold medalist in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. They will train with him again on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings before the Lady Flames practice with three-time U.S. Olympian Holly McPeak at 4 p.m. both days.
"To have our practices led by pro players, it's going to be insightful for us," Willis said. "We'll be getting more specialized attention and find out who we are and what we need to work on. I'm really excited to have that pro input and see how that will impact their play on Thursday."
Willis has high expectations for the Flames this weekend, when they will strive to improve on their finishes June 7-8 in Virginia Beach.
"We're really looking forward to it," Willis said. "It'll be a great end of the season for the teams that aren't going to nationals. We're expecting the same level of competition and we're looking at it to gauge how much we have improved in our targeted areas and met our goals over the past month."
Besides Morrison and Brooks, the Flames will enter close competitors Stephen Fawcett and Andrew Nelson as well as seniors Kaleb Van de Perre and Ethan Chase, who set for the indoor team this past season.
Graduate student Ryan Culkin, who is also the assistant indoor volleyball coach, won't be available for nationals since he is getting married in Canada on July 26. So his playing partner, David Hong, will team up in Virginia Beach with another graduate student and indoor volleyball teammate Kevin Snyder, Liberty's leader in kills.
On Sunday, Liberty will enter three or four tandems in the co-ed tournament, with Horne pairing with Brooks, Johnson with Morrison, and the others to be determined.
Willis will look for her players to score off spikes and dinks more efficiently, after making several spectacular dig saves but staying on the defensive last month.
"We'll be focused on converting those amazing defensive plays into points," Willis said. "We've spent a lot of time on capitalizing on our opportunities, as well as getting our legs in shape, and we're hoping to see the fruit of that practice time this weekend."