USC brings beach to campus

Pierson Clair

Past USC-volleyball greats teamed up with current players to christen the school's new sand volleyball court.

I've been under the weather with a virus for the past week or so, but this was an event I had to get out and see: the opening of the new USC Merle Norman Sand Volleyball Stadium!

Here's a bit of background information on sand volleyball.

The sport is in its second year as an NCAA "emerging sport." It takes 40 participating teams for a sport to become an NCAA-sanctioned championship sport and, as of this year, there are 30 schools supporting it across the country.

Pierson Clair

Streamers filled the air as AD Pat Haden and sand volleyball coach, Anna Collier, conclude the ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open the USC Merle Norman Stadium.

Last year, I had the honor of being a part of USC's inaugural sand volleyball team. It was my first time playing competitive sand volleyball, and it was a really eye-opening, fun new experience for me.

Although sand volleyball and indoor volleyball operate around the same basic rules, the style and how the game is actually played is completely different. Indoor is a lot more specialized with six positions. In sand, there are only two people on the court, so you are not bound by a position. Moving in sand is also a lot harder than moving on a hard court.

Since last year was USC's first year with sand volleyball as a varsity sport, our team drove to the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica, Calif., every day for practice and hosted our home tournaments there. Although going to the beach every day does not sound like a bad gig, fighting traffic on the California freeways to get back to class is.

The new Merle Norman Stadium is right on our campus and is right across from the Galen Center, the home of indoor volleyball and basketball teams. Having a sand volleyball stadium on campus will be great for student support and eliminates the hassle of fighting traffic and organizing car pools. Not only is the location great, the stadium itself is top notch. It has sand from the U.S. Olympic Training Center, a scoreboard and audio system, night lighting, restrooms, showers and is encircled by palm trees so it still has a California beach feel.

The opening night of the Merle Norman Stadium was stupendous as volleyball fans, students, faculty and alumni packed the bleachers. After some words from our athletic director, Pat Haden, and sand volleyball head coach Anna Collier, the ribbon was cut and streamers flew into the sky.

The teams that evening were comprised of current and alumni players from USC, including sand volleyball Olympians April Ross and Jennifer Kessy who earned a silver medal together at the 2012 London Olympics. Each alumna paired with a current USC sand volleyball player for the evening. It represented the coming era of USC women's volleyball -- current Olympians sharing the court with possible future Olympians.

Opening night was not only a great event for USC but for the growth of sand volleyball as an NCAA-sponsored sport. Sand volleyball offers so many new opportunities to young female athletes to compete in a sport they love, while gaining a valuable college education. Beyond college, there are opportunities for these players to become Olympians and to go pro. Even for players who started indoor, like me, sand volleyball allows us to play the game we love with less joint impact so it can be enjoyed for a lifetime.

Everyone is so thrilled for the new Merle Norman Stadium and supporting our sand volleyball team, which officially opened its season Sunday beating Loyola Marymount and falling to fourth-ranked Florida State. I'm looking forward to a great season. Go USC sand volleyball!