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Ospreys seek home court advantage 

Beach volleyball is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States.

 

While many attribute the tremendous interest in the sport to its popularity and success during the Olympics, it is nothing new to the University of North Florida. In fact, UNF was one of the first 15 schools in the United States to sponsor a beach volleyball program and the first school to earn an automatic bid into the American Volleyball Coaches Association National Championship.

 

After several years as an emerging sport in the NCAA, beach volleyball held its rst national championship in 2016. As one of more than 50 NCAA Division I beach volleyball programs, UNF is poised to be a national leader in the sport. Being just a few miles from the beach is certainly a plus, but the program also has a strong history and now a decorated championship coach.

 

But one key component is missing — a home court.  UNF beach volleyball players celebrate a point during a game

 

Plans are underway to change that. A new Beach Volleyball Complex would include ve courts built to NCAA regulations, bleacher seating for at least 300 spectators and a digital scoreboard. Naming opportunities exist for each court with a gift of $50,000, which will be matched dollar for dollar to fund the courts. One gift has been pledged to date with four more still available.  

 

Coach Kristen Wright, who came to UNF in January to coach both the volleyball and beach volleyball teams, said a home complex would be a huge boost to the beach program. “If we can build it up here, there is no reason we can’t have tremendous success,” said Wright, who was an All-American volleyball player for the University of San Diego, and coached both sports at championship levels in California.

 

Currently, with no real home base, Wright practices her team on courts at a residence hall on campus, on a single recreational court behind the Wellness Complex and at the beach. Last year, home games were held at a conference rival’s facility.

 

“With top-notch facilities at schools all over the country, we’re at a disadvantage in the conference and nationally as the sport has evolved,” said Wright, commenting that in addition to enhancing recruiting and consistency in training, a home site would also greatly expand their fan base. A new facility could be utilized for major events and tournaments as well.

 

Once funding is secured, the build-out is quick — an estimated 60-120 days to be fully functional. Chris Decent, assistant vice president for development, said the complex is the final piece that would give the beach program an edge. “There is really a strong potential for beach volleyball to bring UNF its first NCAA Division I national championship,” said a hopeful Decent. “After all, we are a beach school. Why wouldn’t we have a five- court beach volleyball facility?”