University of Arizona Director of Athletics Greg Byrne has announced that his department has added women's sand volleyball as a varsity sport.
The sport, which enjoys a spring competition schedule, will be the 20th varsity sport sponsored by the department. Steve Walker has been named the new program's first head coach. Official competition will begin in spring 2014.
"This is an exciting day for the University of Arizona and our volleyball program," said Byrne. "With our strengths as an athletics department – including strong indoor volleyball, great interest from our fans and weather that is very conducive to outdoor activity – it's a natural fit for us."
Walker, currently the UA's indoor volleyball associate head coach, will serve as the program's first leader. He served as an assistant coach with the Wildcats for three seasons from 2003-05, helping to lead the program to three NCAA Tournament appearances, including a trip to the Elite Eight in 2005. He left Arizona after the 2005 season to become the women's volleyball head coach at the UC Davis, where he has coached for two seasons before returning to Arizona in 2007.
"I would like to thank Greg and all involved for this opportunity to be the first-ever head sand volleyball coach here at the University of Arizona," said Walker. "Throughout this hiring process, it is evident that this athletics department is excited about bringing an emerging sport like sand volleyball to this campus and community and plan to grow with it in the coming years."
"Sand volleyball is one of the fastest growing sports in the country," said Deputy Director of Athletics Rocky LaRose. "With growing national interest, and in particular within the high school ranks in the state of Arizona, this was a natural fit. In fact, Arizona is the first high school interscholastic association to add sand volleyball as an official varsity sport. I'm excited for the new opportunities for our women, and thrilled to continue to grow our women's programs."
At UC Davis, Walker became the Aggies' eighth head volleyball coach, guiding the program through its final year of reclassification to NCAA Division I status in 2006, and during its first year of membership in the Big West Conference. During his tenure at UC Davis, Walker was selected to coach the Northern California Volleyball Association Youth Division team at the Global Challenge in Maribor, Slovenia, during July of 2006. In 2010, he was invited back to coach the NCVA Youth team at the USA Volleyball High Performance Championship in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Walker received his "AAA" rating, the highest level pro/am rating as a player in the California Beach Volleyball Association series from 1997-99, and multiple times he was an Arizona Beach Volleyball Association tournament winner from 2003-06.
A collegiate volleyball player at Long Beach State, Walker finished his career as the school's all-time leader in assists per game. The starting setter for two seasons, he was named AVCA All-America and All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in 1995, after leading the NCAA in assists and assists per game.
"We're fortunate to have Steve as our first head coach," said David Rubio, Arizona's indoor volleyball head coach. "He has a strong background in sand volleyball and will put us a step ahead of many programs right from the start."
Women's sand volleyball is an emerging sport worldwide – as witnessed by its success at recent Olympic Games – and within NCAA circles. Fifteen universities sponsored the sport in 2011-12, its inaugural year, and 29 will compete in 2012-13. Further, 47 schools are considering sponsorship in 2013-14.
In order to be an officially sponsored NCAA championship sport, there must be 40 competing institutions in two consecutive seasons. Within the Pac-12 Conference, four schools presently sponsor the sport (California, Stanford, UCLA, USC) with at least one other member considering adding the sport.
Additionally, Arizona was the first state in the nation to add sand volleyball as a high school varsity sport in 2011-12, with California following in 2012-13. Currently, there are more than 350 youth club participants in the sport in the Arizona region.
Sand volleyball was added by the NCAA in August 2011 for Division I competition. The roster size in this sport will grow as the number of scholarships increase and will have a maximum roster size of 14 student-athletes by 2014-15.
Sand volleyball features five two-woman teams ranked by ability, and each duo plays against the corresponding team or teams from other schools. In a dual meet, the winning team is the school winning three of five matches. Individual matches are two sets played to 21 points, with a tiebreaker set to 15, if needed. All sets are rally scoring and must be won by two points.
The sport is the first added by the UA since women's indoor track and field in 1998. Previously, Arizona added women's soccer in 1994.
Arizona currently sponsors 11 women's sports (basketball, cross country, golf, gymnastics, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field and volleyball) and eight men's sports (baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, swimming and diving, tennis and outdoor track and field).
Arizona has won 21 national championships and 118 conference titles in its athletic history.