Until 2020, the UCLA beach volleyball team had never brought in a graduate transfer. The practice of adding former indoor stars to the ranks of a college beach volleyball roster for one or two additional seasons after their indoor careers end is common enough, but the two-time national championship Bruins were doing just fine with their collection of beach-only athletes and some dual-sport kids from the UCLA indoor side, thank you very much.
But when VolleyballMag.com first-team All-American outside Jacqueline Quade of Illinois approached coaches Stein Metzger and Jenny Johnson Jordan about joining them in Westwood, they could hardly turn her down.
“I actually didn’t know that they had never had a graduate transfer,” said Quade, the 6-foot-2 product of Fort Wayne, Indiana. “It’s definitely an honor that they believed in me enough to take me on in that role.”
Quade, who led Illinois in kills last season, is hardly the only athlete kicking off the 2020 beach volleyball season in new surroundings. Since the final point fell in Gulf Shores last May, giving UCLA its second national championship, there has been plenty of movement among the ranks of college beach volleyball players — both grad transfers like Quade coming from the indoor game and also established beach athletes going in search of greener pastures.
For Hailey Harward, the thought of transferring out of Long Beach State after finishing her undergraduate degree first crossed her mind last fall. She had returned to playing, and earned the starting libero spot for the LBSU indoor team, after sitting out the 2019 beach season and not participating in spring training with the indoor team due to a toe injury.
Harward, who is from Phoenix, knew she wanted to pursue an advanced degree, but she initially figured she’d stay at Long Beach and continue playing with the 49ers beach squad — after all she’d had plenty of success with the team in 2017 and 2018 competing at the No. 3 spot both years and accumulating a 44-18 overall record.
“But then I just thought, I haven’t been with the beach team in two years, I took that year off, all the girls that I played with have graduated,” Harward said. “I have this opportunity to kind of browse and see what’s out there.”
After talking it over with Long Beach State beach coaches Mike Campbell and Kristian Kuld, Harward entered the transfer portal, ultimately landing at two-time national champion USC where she’s now also enrolled in the entrepreneurship and innovation master’s degree program. She says she’s been welcomed by the Trojan players and coaches with open arms, but there has definitely been a learning curve.
“With Long Beach we were taught to run a bunch of different plays — run a back and a wide and quick, which has really helped my game evolve to be able to be dynamic and do a bunch of things,” Harward said. “Then with the USC team, the system that we’re working on now is like pass it high, get outside, and approach straight angle and open everything up. It’s been an adjustment, but I think having both in your toolbox is going to help so much.”
Like Harward, former Iowa State outside hitter Jess Schaben also always knew she wanted to pursue a master’s degree. She majored in elementary education at ISU, following in the footsteps of her mother and two sisters-in-law who are all teachers. Those three role models all have advanced degrees, and Schaben wanted to do the same, she just wasn’t sure how to make it happen.
Enter beach volleyball. Given her indoor career, which included AVCA Honorable Mention honors three times over and a trio of First Team All-Big 12 selections in four years of starting for the Cyclones, it likely wasn’t too difficult to convince LSU beach volleyball coach Russell Brock to offer her a spot on his team.
Then again, the Tigers enter the 2020 season ranked No. 2 in the DiG Magazine preseason poll after finishing in third place at the 2019 NCAA Championship, and with 22 players on the roster, competition for one of the 10 starting spots will be absolutely fierce.
The 6-2 Schaben, who is from Defiance, Iowa, has almost no beach volleyball background, and therefore might have her work cut out for her to be one of the lucky 10. After finishing her indoor career in December 2018, Schaben spent her final semester student-teaching in order to complete her bachelor’s degree, and then over the summer enlisted her fiance, Will Lansman, an outside linebacker for the Nebraska-Kearney football team, and his brothers to play doubles with and against her in the backyard of the Lansmans’ lake house.
“Whatever role that I’m given, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability and if that means playing, then that means playing and if that means not, then that’s OK too,” Schaben said.
Schaben is a blocker on the beach, meaning she’s also more often than not the one setting the ball, which she says has been the hardest part of transitioning to the sand. LSU already has another big transfer, 6-4 Taryn Kloth, who played at Creighton and joined LSU for the 2019 season.
“I’m used to trying to hit the ball all the time as an outside hitter, so coming and being more of the setter and blocker role was definitely a transition,” Schaben said, “just learning where to set the ball and how high to set it and like if there’s winds — there’s a lot of factors that go into it.”
For Quade, it’s the two-on-two aspect of beach volleyball that has been the biggest transition.
“Being on a court with only one other person is obviously a lot different, and it’s a pretty big challenge when you’re used to having so many more people around you,” she said. “The flow of the game in beach has been my biggest challenge. Playing volleyball at a high level for four years, you kind of have a pretty solid foundation of the skills, so it’s just learning how to move with just one other person on your side of the net.”
Schaben and Quade are the only transfers on their respective 2020 rosters, but Harward is joined by Belen Castillo and Paige Dreeuws at USC. Castillo played just two seasons of indoor as a middle blocker at Cal in 2015 and 2016, but didn’t return to the roster for 2017. She transferred to USC after finishing her undergrad degree at Cal last spring. Hawai’i transfer Dreeuws competed at the No. 5s for the Wahine as both a freshman and sophomore, collecting an overall record of 43-21. She comes to LA with two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Hawai’i may have lost Dreeuws, but the Wahine added three transfers to their ranks for 2020. Brooke Van Sickle and Jolie Rasmussen both came to Honolulu from Oregon and played for the UH indoor team in the fall. Van Sickle finished the indoor slate third on the team with 209 kills, and Rasmussen got off to a hot start, including being named national player of the week on September 3, but missed much of the season due to an injury.
The third transfer to join Hawai’i for this season, Harlee Kekauoha graduated from UC Irvine with a degree in anthropology after spending four seasons as an outside hitter with the Anteater indoor squad. She left UCI ranked 10th all-time in career kills (1,154) and attempts (2,991) and third in aces (138). She also holds the program record for best hitting percentage in a match (.923) going off for 12 kills on 13 attempts with zero errors in a match versus Cal State Fullerton in 2016.
When Mariah Whalen takes the sand for Cal Poly this spring, she’ll be appearing in official competition for the first time since partway through the 2018 indoor season. The 6-1 outside hitter struggled with knee injuries throughout her two seasons on the Wisconsin indoor team, and she hopes to find relief on the softer, more forgiving beach surface.
In moving to the sand, Whalen follows in the footsteps of her older sister Carissa, who played indoor at North Dakota State and South Florida before deciding to move to California and chase the beach volleyball dream. The younger Whalen has already proven herself plenty capable as a beach volleyball player — she won the USAV Junior Beach National Championship in 2014 alongside partner Rylie Vaughn (now a setter at Milwaukee) and placed third in 2016.
For Allyson Eylers, a spot on the Arizona State beach volleyball team might help make up for an indoor career that never quite got going. The 6-1 hitter-turned-setter came to San Diego in 2016, but redshirted her first year on campus, played sparingly in 2017, and then missed the entire 2018 season due to injury. She graduated from San Diego with a BBA in international business and finance and has returned to her hometown of Tempe, Arizona, to get a master’s degree and finish out her collegiate eligibility as a beach volleyball player.
Other notable indoor players making the transition to the beach include Michigan All-American Carly Skjodt, who joined the Pepperdine beach squad last fall; Ohio State middle blocker Madison Smeathers, now at Long Beach State; Florida outside hitter Morgyn Greer, now with the South Carolina beach team; and Washington State libero Alexis Dirige, who landed on the Concordia Irvine beach roster. Dylynn Otte selected UAB for beach after finishing her undergraduate degree and playing three seasons of indoor at SIU-Edwardsville.
Two former Minnesota indoor players will suit up for the Florida State beach team this spring: Jasmyn Martin and Alice Zeimann. Martin played for the FSU indoor team in the fall, finishing the season ranked third with 206 kills. Zeimann, a native of New Zealand, spent two years on the Minnesota indoor roster, but did not join the FSU indoor team. She has plenty of beach experience, representing New Zealand in a number of international age-group competitions, in addition to appearing on the indoor national team.
Harward headlines the list of beach-to-beach transfers, but also notable in that group are Lauren Orlich (Tulane to Arizona), Hannah Rogers (TCU to Cal Poly), Emily Mattoon (Oregon to Long Beach), Sophia Brandstetter (North Alabama to FIU), Carly Lowry (San Francisco to Arizona), Olivia Beyer (LSU to TCU)
Making the jump to NCAA beach from the community college ranks are Kyce Martins (St. Petersburg to Stetson), Alina Snyder (San Diego Mesa College to Cal Poly), Avery Nelson (Laramie County CC to Long Beach State), Halie Hess (Mira Costa CC to Arizona), and Alyssa Vortouni (Irvine Valley CC to Grand Canyon).
Makenzie Griffin joins Long Beach after working her way up from Division III indoor at Texas Lutheran to DII Angelo State, and finally to Division I beach. Now with the South Carolina beach team, Madison Brabham played indoor and beach for DIII Texas A&M-Kingsville. Indoors, she earned first-team All-America honors and was named conference player of the year as a senior. She also helped the A&M-Kingsville beach team win the AVCA Small College Beach Championships in 2019.