March 13, 2018
Deemed the fastest growing sport in NCAA Division 1 athletics, beach volleyball is no longer just for southern states and the west coast. There are now over 90 women’s varsity beach programs at the collegiate level, and one of those teams is the Eagles of Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky. Morehead started their beach program in 2017, a year after the NCAA declared it an official championship sport. Head Coach Jaime Gordon*, who also heads up the very successful indoor program at Morehead, shares some insight on what it was like to be there from the beginning of this new adventure.
Beach volleyball was a discussion for Morehead State from when it was first introduced as an NCAA emerging sport. I believe that it is a great opportunity to grow the sport of volleyball and create new opportunities for young women to learn life lessons through sport. We had the support of our administration from the very beginning and worked hard to determine the timing that made the most sense for us. One of our biggest concerns was who we would be able to compete against and how to build a schedule that would provide our students a meaningful experience. Even though we didn’t have great clarity on the “how,” our administration decided we should take advantage of the opportunity to be a leader in this region of the country.
The first step of getting started was to recognize that we had an awful lot of questions–many of them without any answers. We had to start everything from the ground up. We needed a place to practice and compete and had to determine what a schedule was going to look like considering the nearest program was 5 hours away, and the majority a lot further than that. There was equipment that needed to be ordered and too many other unknowns to mention. It was less of a first step and more of a plunge.
One of the most common responses I received from colleagues when we made the announcement was “Sorry to hear.” This was usually followed by, “I don’t know how you are going to balance both.” I believe a common skill that great coaches share is their ability to distinguish the difference between things that they “want” to get done and those that “need” to be done. I have struggled with that in my own professional development, but having to manage two programs has forced me to become more efficient and intentional at what I do. As a result, I am spending even more time with our students both on and off the court which makes this job even more rewarding.
Beach Volleyball is exploding at the juniors level, and as a result, we have experienced a number of kids that have the desire to compete at both indoor and beach in college. Morehead State has already seen the sponsorship of Beach Volleyball have an impact on our recruiting efforts. I envision that we will eventually have a significant number of beach only players on our roster complimented by a group of crossover players who will do both. While many programs have two totally separate rosters, I think our ability to offer both will give us a unique opportunity for those that are looking for it.
Year one for us would have made an award-winning documentary in the category of best comedy. We were trying to make it through each day with no more than three embarrassing moments. Everything from our dollar store tent that literally blew apart during our second tournament to being on the road and showing up to the wrong beach for practice where there were no courts made for a memorable season. Our goal now is to strive for only one embarrassing moment a day. I think we have already been able to train with more purpose and intention. It has been exciting to see how quickly they have adapted to the game and their excitement in continuing to learn this wonderful game.
Just do it and enjoy the ride. It has been incredibly rewarding for me as a coach to go through this process. When I started coaching indoor some 25 years ago, I was able to benefit from the lessons learned by pioneers like Mike Hebert, John Dunning, and Don Shondell who were teachers and had to figure things out as they went. Being a part of the collegiate beach game at its youth has forced me to think outside of the box when it comes to planning practices, recruiting players, building teams, implementing strategies, and balancing the training of two very different sports. This creative and fluid process has been a lot of fun, and something that I believe has, and will continue to, make me a better coach and mentor to our student/athletes.
Coach Gordon and the team kicked off their second season in Tampa, Florida last weekend, and will record their first home match ever in early April. Good luck Eagles!
*Jaime Gordon is in his second season as head volleyball coach for the beach team and his fifteenth season for the indoor team as the head volleyball coach at Morehead State. He has led MSU to four Ohio Valley Conference regular-season titles in the last seven years and eight 20-win campaigns in the past eleven seasons. Gordon guided the Eagles to their fourth straight OVC regular-season title and second NCAA Tournament appearance in 2013. He also reached his milestone 300th career collegiate coaching victory during the season. He guided the 2012 Eagles a 26-7 overall record and 16-0 OVC mark. It was just the eighth unblemished league record in OVC history. Gordon was named OVC Coach of the Year and AVCA Midwest Region Coach of the Year.