When you’re committed to something and surrounded only by people who share that same commitment, it can be easy to become insulated. You can become too close to the thing, and it becomes difficult to gauge outside reaction. How is the community responding? What will the excitement level be for a brand new Division I beach volleyball program that has yet to play a match?
For Missouri State, as it gears up to play its first beach volleyball match at Nebraska, early returns are nothing but positive.
“I was going through the Starbucks drive-through and I had a beach volleyball shirt on and [the cashier] goes ‘Oh do you, play for MSU? I heard that’s a new program,’” sophomore Julia Hanson says. “She said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to take my gals with me. We’ll totally come and support you.’”
Who says there can’t be beach volleyball in Springfield, Missouri? There is the novelty factor, sure. But couple it with the fact that this team is coached by an alumnus in Terri Del Conte and in large part made up of the 2017 Missouri Valley Conference indoor volleyball champions, and it becomes clear: this team expects to compete. If the team has its way, any raised eyebrows about the viability of a beach volleyball team smack dab in the middle of the country will quickly revert to their resting state.
Wait. Beach volleyball? In Missouri? Yep. It’s been a wish list item for while. Beach volleyball became a Division I NCAA sport in 2011, and last spring, Missouri State announced its intentions for the team.
Really though—in Missouri? When? Yes, in Missouri! We’ve established that already! The team plays at The Betty and Bobby Allison Sand Volleyball Courts, which have sand, a net, a ball, the works. Its first match is March 2 against the University of Nebraska, and the home opener is March 22 against Ottawa University.
But isn’t hasn’t it been cold outside? How does that work? Very perceptive! The team has been practicing in cold weather in preparation for the season. Hanson says there are days where they’ll come out in five layers and soldier through. The majority of the season will be played throughout the spring, though.
Who’s coaching? The Bears are in good hands. Both head coach Terri Del Conte and assistant Carly Thomas played indoor volleyball at Missouri State under long-time indoor head coach Melissa Stokes. Del Conte has enjoyed a long career as a professional beach volleyball player, and has coaching experience with club teams in California. She says she jumped at the opportunity to come to what she calls her second home.
That’s encouraging. It is! And the roster has women with a lot of indoor experience, so the team isn’t really starting from scratch. Some are hybrid players, meaning they’ll play both beach and indoor. Senior Lynsey Wright actually wrapped up her senior indoor season, and wasn’t ready to stop being a college athlete, so she joined the beach team. Hanson has been training with the beach team since the fall, as has Caroline Finnell, who forwent her fall indoor season to train after playing the previous three.
The Bears also have two graduate transfers in Taylor Fricano and Ivy Reynolds, adding to their veteran leadership. Aubrey Cheffey, a Nixa, Missouri native who was an all-conference indoor player this past fall, is also another name to keep an eye on.