Women’s beach volleyball, home at last

Mark your calendars for the women’s beach volleyball program's first-ever home game, tentatively scheduled for April 20.

By Julianna Pedone | February 12, 2024 9:00am

The newly constructed beach volleyball courts on River Campus saw their first use at a practice on Thursday.

Media Credit: Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

Amidst the excitement of the Shiley-Marcos Center for Design & Innovation unveiling, the University of Portland has introduced another significant addition to campus: beach volleyball courts designated for use by the university’s Division I women’s team, marking a long-awaited milestone for players and enthusiasts alike.

The installation of beach volleyball courts on Franz River Campus is a notable advancement for the UP women’s beach volleyball program. Previously, the team practiced on a court in front of Fields and Schoenfeldt Hall, which is shared with the university’s intramural teams.

The UP women's beach volleyball team huddles together before starting their first practice at the new River campus beach courts.

by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

Now, with designated on-campus facilities, the program will be able to host home games for the first time in its history. According to Jason Brough, senior associate athletic director, the first game is tentatively scheduled for April 20.

The program’s first home game will also double as senior night, a milestone that college senior and team member Sophie Lee has eagerly anticipated celebrating since her recruitment as a freshman.

Beach volleyball player Sophie Lee practices on the old sand court outside Fields and Schoenfeldt Halls.
by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

“For years I've had all my friends and professors say ‘I want to go to your games,’” Lee said. “So it's nice we are finally able to have them come do that on campus.” 

While the addition of on-campus facilities is a step in the right direction, Lee hopes it's just the beginning of UP's efforts to strengthen the program.

“We don’t have our own coach,” Lee said. “Almost every single beach team within the WCC has a separate beach coach, so sometimes it feels like we are more of a branch off of indoor [volleyball] rather than our own team.” 

Lee hopes that accessible on-campus facilities will further support recognition for the dedication and effort that women’s beach volleyball players invest in representing UP.

Specifically, Lee desires equal representation of the women's beach volleyball team on UP Athletics platforms. 

On Feb. 8, the official Instagram account of Portland Pilots Athletics shared a post celebrating National Girls & Women in Sports Day. However, noticeably absent from the post were the women’s beach volleyball players.

“I’ve told my professors, ‘Oh, I’m traveling for this [beach volleyball],’” Lee said. “And they would ask, ‘Oh, is that for intramural or a club?’ But we receive the same athletic scholarship as other athletes, and we have the exact same time commitment as other NCAA athletes.”

Junior Taylor Helle, another player on the women’s beach volleyball team, is optimistic that the addition of the new courts will enhance UP's competitiveness in recruiting athletes and enable the program to expand their roster from four full-time players to ten, aligning with most NCAA teams.

Beach Volleyball players Annika Stammberger and Taylor Helle pose during a practice.

by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

“We are one of the only teams in the WCC that hasn’t had at least two courts to practice on,” Helle said. “It made it really hard to recruit and expand the program.”

The absence of on-campus facilities for a Division I women’s beach volleyball team may seem unexpected. However, the lack of support and accommodations for women’s beach volleyball is a widespread issue.

Nationally, Division I athletic departments allocate funding for men's sports at double the rate of women's, highlighting a significant disparity in resource distribution within collegiate athletics. According to a study by the NCAA, women's sports receive 40% or less of the total funding designated for college athletics and substantially less media recognition.

Junior Annika Stammberger, another player on the women's beach volleyball team, acknowledges that handling people's misconceptions and lack of support for beach volleyball can be challenging at times.

Beach Volleyball player Annika Stammberger practices on the old sand court outside Fields and Schoenfeldt Halls.

by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

“It is a push and pull battle with beach volleyball, definitely,” Stammberger said. “People have called us the ‘fake volleyball team,’ which is kind of disheartening.”

Stammberger believes that people often underestimate the skill required to be a Division I beach volleyball player, since there are only two players on the court.

“You have to know how to play every position,” Stammberger said. “You have to be a passer, a setter, a hitter. I love the aspect of having to learn every single part of the game.” 

Despite these misconceptions, the UP women’s beach volleyball has achieved numerous competitive feats.

“During my freshman year, we beat the number two team of Hawaii in a tournament,” Helle said. “They were ranked and our program has never beat a ranked team before, which was really exciting.” 

The UP women's beach volleyball team has also been recognized by the WCC as an all-academic team, with two of its members receiving honors for academic excellence.

And, regardless of the challenges they face off the court, the women’s beach volleyball team views each game as an opportunity to support and encourage one another.

The UP women's beach volleyball team huddles together before starting their first practice at the new River campus beach courts.

by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

“One time, at the end of my game, all of my teammates surrounded us,” Stammberger said. “It was a cool moment because I could just look around and see my best friends were literally just standing there supporting me.”

Sophomore Michela Strati, the women’s beach volleyball team's recent recruit, especially appreciates the close-knit and supportive atmosphere created by her teammates since joining from Australia.

“In Australia, we don't have college sports,” Strati said. “So, the whole concept of, you know, studying, practicing, attending classes and having daily workouts is very new to me.”

Strati feels that her teammates have significantly eased this transition, forming genuine friendships with them both on and off the court.

“They took me under their wing early on,” Strati said. “They showed me what it was like to be like a student-athlete but also have a healthy balance with social life as well.”

Beach volleyball player Michela Strati practices on the old sand court outside Fields and Schoenfeldt Halls.
by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

Overall, the women’s beach volleyball team is optimistic that the addition of new, designated courts on campus will help promote beach volleyball as its own individual sport, and they look forward to showcasing their skills in the upcoming months.

“We are really excited for people to have the opportunity to come see what we do,” Helle said.  “Because we’ve been here and we’ve been doing it for years.”

Julianna Pedone is the Sports Section Editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at pedone25@up.edu