Liberty beach volleyball coach sets goals for 2018

It was 9 a.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Liberty Mountain Intramural Sports Complex, and there was not a single cloud in the sky. Sixty-four athletes representing a dozen schools from all along the East Coast were ready to begin a full day of beach volleyball in the sun.

Over eight hours later, the National Collegiate Sand Volleyball Association Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships were completed.

For those on the Liberty Flames Beach Volleyball team not staying in Lynchburg for the summer, the event was the pinnacle of a season that saw tremendous growth and more competition and team bonding opportunities than ever before.

For those on the summer roster, the fun has only just begun.

“With the athletes, we just want to empower them to do things that they want and give them opportunities to continue to grow not only in beach volleyball, but to grow in their relationship with each other and their relationship with God,” head coach Kaleb Van De Perre said.

In years past, practices were halted during the winter. But this season, players were able to participate in as many as eight tournaments and practice at least twice a week since September.

For Van De Perre, a former beach volleyball player who has been with the program since 2012 and now in his first season as head coach, consistency was vital in the development of his players.

“It’s been unbelievable to see that we didn’t have a drop-off from October to March,” Van De Perre said.  “We were able to continue with that control…and I think that that’s been huge for us to then see what we can start working on in practice now.”

Moving past the basics of controlled touches and working on the more intricate parts of beach volleyball will translate to more competitive play when the Flames take on the talented and experienced pairs waiting for them at Virginia Beach and at the NCSVA National Championships in Hermosa Beach, California.

The Flames will participate in two “Big Money” tournaments at Virginia Beach, June 9 and July 7. While it would be ideal if Liberty dominated, Van De Perre has tempered expectations for both the men’s and women’s teams when it comes to getting results in the Open Division at these tournaments.

“I’d say any top 10 finish in (the) men’s open would be phenomenal,” Van De Perre said. “The two tournaments we’re going to, there should be 20-plus teams. If we make it into the top half…that would be a successful day.”

For the women, Van De Perre thinks that it will be even more difficult to secure victories if the Flames choose to play in the top division.

“I think winning games in (the) Open would be a success based on the talent disparity there,” Van De Perre said. “They’re a lot taller and a lot more experienced. If we can compete there, that would be good news for us.”

At Nationals in August, however, success may be more palpable for the Liberty women.

Last year, the Flames pairing of Maribeth Kern and Sallie Robertson took second place. If the competition is similar to what it was in 2017, then another appearance in the finals for Liberty is not out of the question.

The top Liberty men’s team that will be sent to California will likely face just as challenging competition as they would at Virginia Beach.

“This year, a good goal to set is to finish in the top half and we can reevaluate when we get there,” Van De Perre said. “If we see 16 teams, let’s try and go for top five. If there’s 30 teams, a top 15 (or) top 10 finish is probably realistic.”

While it appears that Virginia Beach wins or national titles may not be within reach for Liberty beach volleyball in 2018, the hope is that growth and improvement among other schools in the area will soon pay dividends for the Flames in their chances to play against quality opponents.

In hosting the NCSVA Regionals, Liberty was able to build connections with teams from five schools in Florida and four schools in Virginia, while continuing their already strong relationships with the beach volleyball club teams at the North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina.

“Having all those schools come and see our facilities, see what Liberty offers, see just the hospitality of our team—we heard from so many people, ‘We’ll come back to another tournament,’” Van De Perre said. “I think the NCSVA would love to have Regionals here again.”

More than simply getting the increased competitive experience, Van De Perre points to the potential for forming influential relationships with other beach volleyball players and how the Liberty team can represent their school off the court.

“We’re going to focus a ton on being successful on the field, but also cultivating relationships and demonstrating the love of Christ,” Van De Perre said. “Through that, the competition will raise. Through that, more people are going to end up coming to Liberty and hopefully coming to know Jesus through us.”

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