Photo Credits: TESSA KOGA / AGGIE
UC Davis’ newest sport prepares to debut in early March
After 10 long months, the wait for UC Davis to introduce its newest sport on campus is almost over.
Last April, the Director of Athletics Kevin Blue and the UC Davis Athletics department announced that the school added two new women’s sports programs, equestrian and beach volleyball, to the school’s lineup of 25 Division I teams. Equestrian is already off to a flying start, but now the time is near for another debut and the unveiling of a brand-new facility: the four beach volleyball courts on the south edge of Howard Field, next to Toomey Field.
In early July, Ali McColloch, a former professional volleyball player who has competed around the globe, was hired to be the inaugural beach volleyball Head Coach and build the program from the ground up.
Since she arrived, there has been a race against time to get every aspect of the program in order in preparation for the season opener against Sacramento State on March 2.
Given time constraints and numerous challenges associated with starting a program from scratch, the last eight months have been an absolute whirlwind for McColloch.
She has been tasked with putting together a makeshift roster for the team’s first season, without the luxury of an incoming recruited class. As a result, this year’s 18-person roster is comprised of 14 players from the women’s indoor volleyball team and another four that made the cut during tryout sessions in late December.
“The indoor athletes are extremely athletic and that is very appealing to me,” McColloch said. “They can jump very well, move fast and are prime athletes.”
McColloch isn’t too concerned about the contrasts in playing style between the two sports but more wary of the toll that playing a pair of intense, back-to-back seasons can have on a player’s body.
“The transition is a little hard but not that bad,” McColloch said. “My concern is transitioning back and forth between the two, and how little time I get with them. We only have about three months with them. Once they’re done with our season, they go straight into spring training for indoor. They don’t get much of a break which is tough.”
This inaugural season will serve as a trial period for many of the indoor players and help determine how the program’s roster will be constructed in future years.
“It’s a very unique situation,” McColloch said. “It was optional for them to be fully practicing, travel and play with us, or some girls could just use it as training for indoor. This is basically a year-long tryout for all the girls. Next year, if there are players that we think can help the program, we’ll keep them.”
Starting this winter, McColloch had a chance to start recruiting at the high school level for the first time and revealed her ultimate goals for the long-term structure of the roster.
“In the long run, I think it’ll be 90 percent beach-only players,” McColloch stated. “We’ve had a lot of interest from beach-only players wanting to come here. That was something I wasn’t expecting because most of them are walk-on’s, and there’s not a lot of scholarship money right now. By the end of next year, we should have a full 10-12 person roster [that] is what I’m hoping for, assuming they fit our culture.”
Nonetheless, indoor Head Coach Dan Conners will oversee both programs and continue to work with McColloch to implement a strategy that benefits the long-term prosperity of each team.
“We’ll always leave the option for indoor players to play and I don’t ever want to close that off,” McColloch said. “[Conners] and I work really well together on that.”
In addition to player development, McColloch was also faced with the challenge of compiling a schedule of opponents for the season, which is extremely difficult to accomplish in such a late stage of the offseason. As a general rule, teams typically set their schedules well in advance, and McColloch is already putting together dates for the 2020 season.
“It was hard for me because everyone already had their schedule pretty locked in when I got here,” McColloch said. “Our schedule has Stanford, Cal, Boise State and the Big West Challenge. Our conference, specifically, is really tough and Cal Poly, Hawaii and Long Beach are three of the top teams in the NCAA.”
Given the unusual circumstances facing the program, McColloch admitted that her team will face difficult challenges once they step onto the court in March. That doesn’t change her long-standing goals and what she hopes to see the players achieve.
“It’s going to be tough,” McColloch said. “I don’t have expectations for the girls and never have expectations for winning. Our success is not about winning and losing, it’s about the effort you put in every time you play and doing the best you can possibly do every day.”
McColloch was originally drawn to the coaching job due to her positive impressions of UC Davis Athletics as a whole and the department’s recent progress under Blue.
“When I came on my interview, I was really impressed with the way that Davis looks at their student-athletes,” McColloch said. “When they think of student-athletes, they are students and then athletes. That doesn’t happen at a lot of big D-1 programs.”
“Davis, to me, is really a top D-1 program athletically and they’re showing that in their facilities, making a push for better resources for the players and reaching out to the community to help support those athletes better.”
McColloch also mentioned her admiration for the Aggie EVO program and explained how a similar system would have greatly impacted her own college experience at UCLA.
“When I was done with college, I was still playing volleyball but then after that I had no idea how to write a resume or get a job,” McColloch said. “All I knew how to do was play volleyball and then coach volleyball because I needed money in college. I spent a lot of time learning how to develop relationships, run my own business, but that took me six to seven years to figure it out. When you’re here, they’re trying to help you do that while you’re at school. I think that’s really cool and that’s something I want to be apart of.”
When the team finally plays its first home games on Picnic Day weekend, McColloch hopes to see a lot of fans cheering on the team and enjoying this new environment that has never been seen before at UC Davis.
“We want to make it a really fun and relaxed environment, where it feels like you’re at the beach,” McColloch said. “That’s pretty exciting and it’s just a matter of the weather clearing up.”
McColloch is currently working with UC Davis Athletics on a plan to create the best possible gameday experience for supporters and make the team’s presence known across campus. Some of the ideas being floated around include a “meet and greet” with the players, movie nights on Howard Field and youth clinics for young members of the community to gain exposure to the sport. McColloch is also teaching a half-unit physical education class on beach volleyball next quarter, which will take place on Mondays and Wednesdays at 1:10 p.m.
All in all, there is a lot of positivity surrounding the launch of yet another Division I sport on campus. Assuming the weather starts to clear up in the coming months, afternoon games on the beach of Howard Field promise to provide a nice change of scenery for Cow Town.
Written by: Brendan Ogburn — firstname.lastname@example.org