The beaches of Santa Monica were particularly blustery Wednesday afternoon, but it was the winds of change that finally shifted the fortunes of the UCLA sand volleyball team.
Coming off a nail-biting loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a rearranged Bruin squad brought home a decisive 4-1 win over the Loyola Marymount Lions – a victory players were quick to attribute to their new partner teams.
“It was awesome playing with my new partner,” said freshman Karly Drolson, who won her first match playing with freshman Rachel Inouye in two blowout sets.
“Everyone jokes around because we are the smaller players, but we got the win.”
The beach’s windy conditions, which can significantly affect game play and strategy, offered an additional challenge to both teams.
But the Bruins – whose home court at Annenberg Beach House is one of the few among the teams they play that is located on an actual beach – knew how to use the conditions to their advantage.
“You just kind of have to work with it and be very keen and change your passes based off of that,” said sophomore Karsta Lowe.
“We just work on keeping the sets low so they don’t get really high in the wind and fly all over the place – we work on accuracy.”
Lowe and her new partner, senior Bojana Todorovic, won in two sets as well, but players said the windy conditions make the ball control skills typical of smaller players, like Drolson and Inouye, even more crucial.
It’s those skills, Drolson said, that allowed her team to hold its own against much larger opponents – along with a fair amount of psychological strategy.
The two freshmen know their pairing is unusual, and use opponents’ skepticism to their advantage.
“For us, it’s really good. Since we’re not blocking, they think to put it away so they make more errors,” Drolson said.
“I know it’s annoying when you’re hitting and someone keeps digging and getting it up.”
With this many variables affecting game strategy, players said sand volleyball has offered unexpected challenges much different than those of indoor.
“With so many factors like the wind and sun and sand, a lot of things that are frustrating, it’s very different,” Todorovic said.
“It’s more of a chess game, but I love it.”