Going back to school means heading back indoors for St. Charles North senior Emily Carroll.
Both will require major adjustments for the North girls volleyball middle hitter, whose volleyball passion – and future – is shifting to sand.
Last month, Carroll accepted a scholarship offer to play sand volleyball at Stetson University in Florida, one of about 40 U.S. schools that offer the sport.
Carroll said a friend introduced her to the sport three years ago and it “sounded like a fun thing to do in summer.”
She took an immediate liking to the sport, and soon was traveling to an indoor sand volleyball facility in Hobart, Indiana to continue her training when it was too chilly to play locally. Sandy volleyball matches are played 2-on-2, and with sand volleyball players scarce in the midwest, she partnered primarily with Indiana resident Bella Kuechenberg for practice and tournament play.
Carroll said she appreciated the laid-back culture of the sport – taking a dip in the water between matches is quite the stress-reliever – and said she’s received plenty of encouragement about her nontraditional path.
“Everyone thinks it’s awesome,” Carroll said. “I’ve gotten some of my [North] teammates to play sand and beach tournaments, and they all love it and think it’s a really cool sport. I’ve taken something that usually is viewed as just something fun to do and taken it as a serious sport. I’ve gotten nothing but support from my friends and family.”
A longtime indoor club and school player, Carroll said training for sand volleyball requires above-and-beyond training.
“I think a lot of it is with conditioning because running around in sand is a lot harder than running around on a normal floor and also a lot harder to jump, so you have to focus a lot more on conserving energy between plays … and with beach, it’s a lot of placing the ball, too,” Carroll said. “If you place the ball, there are only two people on the court, so it’s a little easier to find open court.”
There are several rule differences between indoor and sand play, including a block counting as one of the three allowed touches in sand volleyball.
Having decided that she wanted to stick with outdoor volleyball long-term, last winter Carroll stepped away from her indoor club program, Team One in Aurora.
“The only thing that really made it hard was leaving my team because I really liked playing on a bigger team, but the more I started to like sand, the less indoor started to appeal to me because I’m a middle, and in sand you get to touch the ball every play and do all the kills, but for middle for indoor, you kind of just block, so I did start to not enjoy indoor as much,” Carroll said.
That said, Carroll expressed enthusiasm about her final go-around as a North Star – even if it means having to re-acclimate to playing in shoes. North coach Lindsey Hawkins said Carroll made a late decision to stick with high school volleyball this fall, saying she is “super glad” Carroll opted to return.
North’s season begins Tuesday against York, and the 6-foot Carroll figures to be part of a highly imposing North front line that also will include potent outside hitters Daley Krage and Claire Anderson.
“I am looking forward to the season,” Carroll said. “It’s great to be a senior, get all the perks, and I really like my team. It’s going to take awhile to adjust to being back indoors, but I am looking forward to it.”
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.