Al-B Hannemann is not just the NVL guy. His daughter, 15-year-old Maia, is exploring her beach-volleyball college options.
They recently took a five-school, eight-day trip, making unofficial visits to LSU, Tulane, Georgia State, South Carolina, and Florida State, and offered to share the experience with VolleyballMag.com. All five schools, while members of other conferences, compete in the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association.
Father and daughter also offered recruiting advice and analysis of their trip, with Al-B offering insight that comes from both being a parent and club director.
Hannemann, the founder and CEO of the National Volleyball League and the director of the Club Med NVL Academy in Port St. Lucie, Fla., played for 18 years professionally on the beach, where his accomplishments included winning the Hermosa Beach Open. He was also a U.S. Open Champion.
Now Maia is a prospect and Al-B hopes that Maia will find a school that will fit her athletically, academically, and socially.
NCAA beach volleyball is the fastest growing college sport in the nation, with 67 teams for 2017. That’s rapid growth for a sport that started in 2012 and had its first official championship last May. Accordingly, the competition for student-athletes is intense.
Hence the road trip.
“The sport has grown to the point that college coaches are recruiting athletes younger and younger,” Al-B said. “I heard that there are a couple of eighth-graders that have verbally committed recently, which is just absurd. I don’t think that those kids are ready to make that kind of an adult decision.”
The Hannemanns started their trip in Baton Rouge at LSU, which competes in the Southeastern Conference in all other sports.
“LSU even has a pharmacy inside of their training room, and have surgeons and dentists on staff,” Al-B said. “It’s everything set up for the student-athlete to succeed in school as well as when they get out.”
Maia was impressed that the facilities were integrated.
“You can have Heisman winners and beach volleyball players in line for the same trainer,” she said. For the record, LSU’s Billy Cannon won the Heisman in 1959, but Leonard Fournette was a finalist two years ago. But certainly LSU football players and volleyball players use that same facility.
LSU is in the process of converting its on-campus tennis stadium into a custom beach facility. The Hannemanns attended the LSU vs. Ole Miss football game, with not only 100,000 in attendance in the stadium but many thousands more who tailgate and don’t even go inside.
Then the Hannemanns were off to Tulane, about 80 miles east on Interstate 10. Whereas LSU is a state school and the Louisiana flagship university, Tulane is a private school that competes in the American Athletic Conference in other sports.
“Having beach volleyball makes it more attainable for kids that might not be able to get in otherwise,” Al-B said. “It’s more balanced, everyone wants a Tulane education. At Tulane, they have the expectation that ‘Wherever you go, you will be at the top of your field out of college.’ ”
Next up was Georgia State, a member of the Sun Belt Conference in other sports.
“Georgia State was a beautiful campus. It’s right in the heart of Atlanta,” Maia said.
“What they do there is buy buildings and turn them into different schools,” Al-B said. “They widen the sidewalks so it’s safe for the students to walk and bike to class.
“Their beach facility is right inside the city, it’s really cool. It’s beautiful and also very different.”
From there the Hannemanns were off to South Carolina in Columbia, another SEC state school that is the flagship university.
“They call themselves ‘the original SC,” Al-B said. “The school was founded in the 1800s, has beautiful trees, there’s a lot of history there.”
The athletic facilities are befitting of an SEC school.
“The beach volleyball stadium was out of control,” Al-B said. “They built a giant scoreboard. They did not mess around. They went all out. Everything was first class.”
The Hannemanns completed their trip in Tallahassee at Florida State, another huge university. The Seminoles, who lost in the inaugural NCAA beach final last May, compete in all other sports in the ACC.
“They have a beautiful facility. We went to the FSU-Clemson (football) game, which was super exciting. Clemson ended up winning at the very end. Their football atmosphere is awesome, and they have amazing facilities.”
“The girls there are really strong, well-disciplined, and very well coached. Maia’s eyes lit up seeing the talent level that was there.”
While this trip was for his daughter, Al-B has plenty of experience helping other athletes through the recruiting process. He offered the following tips to parents and prospective student-athletes:
No. 1: Make sure that you would want to go to that school with or without volleyball. The college should have a strong focus on the major that the student-athlete is looking for. Be looking at the school for the right reasons. If they get injured, or something happens, be sure that you’re in a good place. If the sport helps you get into that school, then that’s even better.
No. 2: Focus on school first. That’s one of the building blocks of the NVL academy. Maia has a 4.62 GPA, that helps her qualify for more dollars than she would qualify for otherwise. Currently a fully funded beach volleyball program has a maximum of six scholarships, and typically carries 18 or 24 players, so it is very rare to get a full scholarship.
No. 3: Parents need to compare in-state to out-of-state tuition. That’s not always as simple as it sounds. For example, at Georgia State, with a 3.5 GPA, the student qualifies for in-state tuition. It is also key to look for other sources of money. We asked the coaches to provide us information on 4-10 academic scholarships that we could apply for individually, that could provide a better overall package. It’s quite possible that your grades and scores can provide more funding than beach volleyball at this stage in its development.
No. 4: I can’t stress enough how important it is to go to the college’s camp. There’s no better way to go to the campus, get used to the facilities, meet the coaches, and they can get a sense of who the student-athlete is. It also shows that the student-athlete is serious about that school. Most coaches told us that they want their athletes to love the school, because nobody wants homesick athletes. We were encouraged by the coaches to go visit all the schools of interest, and to let them know if our college is in the top three choices.
No. 5: Parents need to be proactive in the recruiting process. Parents can talk to the coaches, can send film, you can Facebook live, set up a YouTube channel, etc. There are a lot of really good resources including a current list of colleges at AVCA.org. Parents should also help their kids prepare a list of pros and cons, and that really helped us pare down the list.
Those lessons aren’t lost on Maia.
“I’m looking for a school that I would enjoy even if I don’t play volleyball” she said. “I’m leaning towards staying on the East Coast and attending a bigger school that has a strong business school and football.”
Of the five schools she visited, three stand out, she said: “LSU, FSU, South Carolina. These three have more campus life, strong business schools, and big football teams.”
VBM asked her what she liked best about those top choices.
FSU: “I like how the athletic building is in the football stadium, and that the facility is in middle of campus. The beach volleyball athletes were impressive and practices and workouts were intense.”
LSU: “The team was very nice to me and were all good friends. The campus is beautiful, all of the athletics are in the same area, and all the athletes share the same facilities, including the football players.”
South Carolina: “Loved how proud the athletes were to represent their school. I also liked how the campus is spread out, and the beach volleyball facilities were updated and had a huge scoreboard.”
“It’s gone full circle,’ Al-B said, “from peppering with Maia at 4 years old, to thinking about her going off to college.”