Flames to enter nine doubles teams in Florida tourneys
April 24, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University first-year beach volleyball Head Coach Rachel Willis will take 19 members of her team to Siesta Key, Fla., this weekend for its first two tournaments of the season.
Willis and five women's pairs and four men's teams will leave by bus Friday at 5 a.m. to arrive in time for Saturday's open tournament and Sunday's Florida Gulf Coast Championships, a National Collegiate Sand Volleyball Association (NCSVA) Regional Tournament.
"Saturday's open tournament will be especially competitive because there is a cash payout," Willis said, anticipating a large field including several professional players.
The Florida Gulf Coast Championships will serve as an NCSVA Collegiate Championships qualifier, with the top four men's and women's teams earning automatic seeds and the first-place men's and women's teams free travel vouchers to the July 24 national tournament in Long Beach, Calif.
"You have to play in regional events to get seeded and ranked for nationals," Willis said. "We'll have to do well in our pools, finish first or second, to get into the playoffs."
Liberty's top two men's tandems feature graduate students with NCSVA Championship tournament experience from last summer.
Mike Morrison, who played on the Flames ACHA DI men's hockey team as an undergrad, will partner with freshman Aaron Brooks, who has trained specifically as an outdoor beach player. Ryan Culkin, a former Flames Football player and powerful middle hitter for the indoor volleyball team this past season, will pair up with David Hong, a junior defensive specialist on the indoor squad.
"Ryan brings a lot as far as blocking and David has a lot to contribute defensively," Willis said. "He has a really good touch shot that you don't necessarily see coming that will help him to score off defensive plays."
Since finally getting outside to practice on sand in late March, Willis has been impressed with her players' progression in their beach-specific skills.
"The teams have seen great improvement," Willis said. "It's fun to see how they're meshing. They want to learn, they're really hungry to get better, and it's been really fun to coach them."
On May 3, Liberty will put on an open tournament on its four new beach volleyball courts beyond the Liberty Intramural Fields below the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre.
Then, on May 24, Liberty will have the opportunity to host its first NCSVA regional tournament for the Southeast/Mid-Atlantic Conference, which will be open to collegiate players, graduate students, and incoming freshmen.