March 14, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. - With the inaugural season of Stanford women's sand volleyball just around the corner, GoStanford.com sat down with new volunteer assistant coach Sara Dukes Johnson to talk about the emerging sport for women and the upcoming season.
GoStanford: As a former Cardinal student-athlete, what does it mean to you to have the chance to come back and coach at Stanford?
SDJ: As a very proud alum and Stanford volleyball supporter, I was thrilled to hear about the addition of sand volleyball this year. I want the sand volleyball program to be as successful as the indoor program and am really looking forward to working with John, Denise and Jay (who were my coaches during my playing career) in building a foundation for this success.
GoStanford: What will be the key for Stanford to be successful in its first season of sand volleyball?
SDJ: The key to being successful this season is for the team to bring the same competitive drive and will to win that they demonstrated indoor last fall. We have a very limited number of practices, so it will be important to gain as much confidence and knowledge as we can from every practice and competition. After just one week of practice, we are seeing the players push each other to get better and work extremely hard to develop new skills to be successful sand players.
GoStanford: When did you first start playing sand volleyball and what appealed to you about the sport?
I started playing sand volleyball in 2006. Shortly after graduating from Stanford, I remember watching Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor in the 2004 Olympics (they made playing in the sand look so easy) and thinking to myself that I had the all-around skills to give it a shot. In 2006, I found myself with an opportunity and partner equally committed to training and getting better as quickly as possible. Adjusting to all the new elements and getting ready to play in tournaments was hard, but I liked the challenge of trying to get better every day. At that time, I didn't have a coach putting together practices or telling me when to train, so I was completely responsible for pushing myself to work hard to achieve goals and be successful. Traveling, spending all day at the beach and playing volleyball was all very appealing.
GoStanford: What is your best memory from playing beach volleyball?
SDJ: My best memory is from my first AVP tournament. My sand volleyball partner, Elsa Binder, and I spent all winter preparing for the season and traveled to Fort Lauderdale for our first professional event. We were seeded 47 of 54 teams in the single elimination qualifier and were able to squeak out three very close wins to make it to the main draw, setting up a match-up with Kerri and Misty first thing the next morning.
GoStanford: What are the biggest differences between indoor volleyball and sand volleyball?
SDJ: The biggest difference between indoor volleyball and sand volleyball is covering the court with two players while contending with the elements... moving in the sand, adjusting to the wind, and dealing with the sun. Sand volleyball requires a lot more ball control than indoor because there are so many more opportunities for each player to be the passer, setter, or digger. Development of a wide range of shots is critical to being successful in sand volleyball. I think that sand volleyball improves court vision... seeing where your opponent is and what spots on the court are open, and it forces players to constantly think about and take the initiative to make strategic adjustments throughout a match based on what their opponent is doing.
GoStanford: If you could be paired with any beach volleyball player, who would it be and where would you play?
It would be on the sport's biggest stage, the Olympics, with the best in the world and fellow Stanford alum, Kerri Walsh-Jennings.