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Demand in the sand

Duncan MacLean • Jul 12, 2017 at 12:23 AM

The Grand Haven State Park has been busy this week, but not just with sun-seeking vacationers. Volleyball players, young and old, from all over the state are discovering the world-class expanse of beach courts and players in Grand Haven, thanks to one local club.

“You can’t beat this beach, I grew up here my whole life,” West Michigan Beach Volleyball founder Stevo Vanderwerp said. “Pete (Goers) and I have been playing together for 10-plus years here and are just trying to give back some of the knowledge from all the different people we met and learned from.”

West Michigan Beach Volleyball has sponsored tournaments and clinics at the state park for four years now. Tuesday, they hosted another camp, bringing the skills and challenges of sand spiking to a new crop of players.

The clinic hosted athletes ages 6 through varsity, with younger ballers enjoying the morning sun and the elder hitting the beach after lunch.

“Anywhere from 6 years old through high school, we had about 22 kids in the morning session and 10 in the afternoon,” Vanderwerp said. “A bit on the younger side, but that is what we are going for here, going from the ground up and showing these kids that there are some fun opportunities out here.”

The clinic was split into five levels of play: parent-child duos, beginner, intermediate, limited experience and advanced, with skills building on each other through the curriculum stages.

“We are doing kind of the same thing with all of them, just trying to teach them the game,” Vanderwerp said. “The game is a little bit different than indoor with the sand and the sun and the wind. It is a lot harder to move out here. We are just trying to show them the basics of the game.”

The challenges of the beach game aren’t just useful to sand enthusiasts; the local indoor scene is routinely drawn to the state park camps and tournaments.

“We love to have our players playing on the beach,” Grand Haven head volleyball coach Aaron Smaka said. “When you are playing twos you get a lot more contacts. It is a lot more touches on the ball and it is hard to jump and move in the sand. There are a lot of things that help them in the indoor game; it makes them more well-rounded players.”

Smaka attended the camp with his two children, helping teach them the basics of the game and generate hype surrounding the beach game.

“These guys do a great job just trying to promote the game and get more kids playing out here,” he said. “We are so lucky to have this beach and the courts. It teaches them the game and is a great opportunity to play.”

The clinic has come a long way since its debut four summers ago. A four-man coaching staff has taken on growing responsibilities over the years. Vanderwerp and Goers were joined by Amy Mathews and Brian Chryst to deal with increased demand in the sand.

“The first year we ran it in my backyard at my parents’ house,” Vanderwerp said. “We have seen it grow in different ways. We have started to partner with different high schools to get kids out here and our numbers have grown.

“We have grown not only in numbers, we have had kids come all four years, which is pretty cool. We have kids come from all the way up north, it is part of their summer and they sign up the second registrations hits online.”

The future of West Michigan Beach Volleyball clinics lies in expansion, as the team hopes to broaden their influence outside of the Grand Haven State Park and share the broad world of beach volleyball with more young players.

“The goal is to take the show on the road and get into some different avenues to share the beach game with new people,” Vanderwerp said. “We are trying to push the idea that there are so many college scholarship opportunities all over the country. Sand volleyball is an NCAA Division I sport now. You may go to a big high school and not have an opportunity to continue to play, but there is an opportunity to continue on the beach.”

WMBV is responsible for some of those opportunities, hosting two open tournaments at the State Park this summer. Their second and final run will take place this weekend on Saturday and Sunday at the State Park.

Registration for the tournament cuts off online at 7 p.m. on Friday night. There are brackets for U12-18 teams as well as B, A and AA divisions for adults. On Sunday, co-ed tournaments for the adult levels will take place.

For more information or to register, visit the WMBV website at http://www.wmbeachvolleyball.com or find them on Facebook.

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