*This article was contributed by Ally Dorrough.
Grassroot efforts and grit – Alabama white-sand grit – have led the fast-growing sport of beach volleyball to an unlikely coast. The NCAA Beach Volleyball National Championship has called Gulf Shores, Alabama, home since its inception in 2016, but collegiate champions were crowned on Alabama’s beaches long before the sport became NCAA-sanctioned.
Kathy DeBoer, executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) and a crucial partner in beach volleyball’s success, said it best: “Transforming a vision into reality takes entrepreneurial partners as well as mission-driven organizations. We had both in the Gulf Shores community, the NCAA and the 90+ institutions that have added beach volleyball. The result is a dream that has come to life.”
This visionary has served 17 years with AVCA contributing greatly to beach volleyball joining NCAA’s emerging sport list, making a way for the first AVCA in 2012. The AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championships took place in Gulf Shores from 2012-2015, establishing the coastal community as a home of collegiate beach volleyball.
With the steadfast support of the city of Gulf Shores, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), AVCA, the Gulf Coast Region of USA Volleyball and the Pleasure Island Volleyball Club, Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Sports & Events formally bid on the NCAA championship. Gulf Shores won the bid and has the event through 2024. The event moves to Huntington Beach, California, in 2025.
“We were hopeful with our history hosting the AVCA championships that Gulf Shores would be considered, but we had no idea what the powerhouse in collegiate athletics would think or expect,” said Beth Gendler, president and CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism and GSOB Sports & Events. “The Hangout restaurant operations team and the city of Gulf Shores build the site from the sand up each year, and so much sweat goes into transforming a pristine beachfront into a championship site for the best teams in the country to compete with live ESPN coverage.”
UAB, the host institution for the NCAA championship and one of two Division I beach programs in the state, has been an integral partner since the AVCA championships began in 2012.
“It has been amazing to see how collegiate beach volleyball has grown throughout the years, and the NCAA National Championship is a major reason why,” said Ted Feeley, UAB associate athletic director of communication and beach volleyball sport administrator. “UAB is proud to host the tournament, which has turned into one of the most electric NCAA championships for student-athletes, coaches and spectators to participate in. The energy and passion of this event is second-to-none and it has inspired female athletes to pursue the sport of beach volleyball.”
But no college program can exist without solid grassroots junior programs teaching the fundamentals of the sport and instilling an essential drive and passion into rising stars. The Pleasure Island Volleyball Club (PIVC) in Gulf Shores and the Gulf Coast Region of USA Volleyball have played a vital role in beach volleyball’s growth and have produced several collegiate players along with a slew of up-and-comers.
Macey Moore, is a freshman at Gulf Shores High School (2026 graduating class) and a year-round beach player who travels across the nation competing in top tournaments against the top junior players, including the USAV National Championship.
“Macey has a special gift and the support of her family to give her the opportunity to compete at the highest level,” said Shawn Weaver, director of the PIVC. “Macey is a big role model for a lot of the athletes in our program across all age groups.”
The PIVC has played a major role in the success of the Gulf Coast Region of USA Volleyball in hosting the AVCA sand championships, which has sparked major interest locally in the sport with more than 100 active players in the club. The Gulf Coast Region continues to support NCAA by running the largest junior national qualifier with more than 400 teams competing adjacent to the NCAA championship site across 50 courts. This three-day qualifier – BeachFest Junior National Qualifier – has grown exponentially with athletes traveling from as far as the State of Washington, Canada and Puerto Rico to compete among the best with their families in tow.
In addition to the collegiate and junior events in May, a USAV Para Beach Volleyball tournament will concurrently take place on the junior event site. Coach Weaver serves as the tournament director for the para event and BeachFest and says the 2022 junior qualifier showcased over 80 players who were already committed to play beach volleyball at the collegiate level, and how “raising them up” lends itself to full-circle moments.
“BeachFest is my favorite tournament to host,” Weaver said. “The athletes come back year after year to play, and we have the privilege of watching these young athletes grow up in this dynamic sport. It has been a joy to see some of the athletes compete in BeachFest and later compete in the NCAA Beach Volleyball National Championship.”
As the sport continues to grow, the collegiate championship continues to evolve. The 2022 event expanded to add an opening round before its double-elimination bracket. The 2023 event will feature an opening round play-in dual, where seeds 16 and 17 play for a chance to advance to the single-elimination event next Friday. All NCAA championship weekend duals will air live on the ESPN family of networks, with the championship dual airing live on the flagship ESPN at noon Eastern/11 a.m. local, on Sunday, May 7.
“It has been amazing to watch this sport continue to grow,” said Kristin Fasbender, NCAA director of championships and alliances. “We are in our second year of the expanded bracket for the championship, which is all due to the continued excitement around the sport and the investment by the membership in the sport of beach volleyball on their campuses.”
Click here to purchase NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship day passes, all-session passes and opening-round tickets.
Visit NCAA.com/BeachVolleyball for more information and GulfCoastVolleyball.org for more on the Gulf Coast Region of USA Volleyball. For information on upcoming athletic events along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, visit GSOBsports.com.