Editor’s note: Pro beach player Kim Hildreth writes about grass volleyball after playing in the recent Pottstown Rumble in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. More about the tournament and results follow:
By Kim Hildreth for VolleyballMag.com
Grass volleyball has been the sleeping giant of American volleyball.
It’s the ultimate volleyball equalizer in my opinion. You’re good at beach? You’ll probably be pretty good at grass. Good at indoor? Also, likely to be pretty good at grass. It has its own unique set of rules, unique tournament formats, and most definitely its own unique set of newfound sore muscles it’ll bring you after playing an event.
This year, with the absence of an AVP season this spring and most of the summer, I got to get back to my roots and play some epic grass volleyball tournaments that have been on my own personal “volleyball tournament bucket list” for years.
I grew up in Michigan and grass volleyball was my introduction to the outdoor game. My first-ever outdoor volleyball experience was playing in a reverse co-ed grass 2s league in Michigan with Bob Herrington — an experienced player all around who I met playing in the infamous Michigan Elite (my junior club) adult open gyms while I was in high school. After my intro into the adult volleyball scene in Michigan, I found out that there were grass triples, quads, coed, tournaments, leagues and more. Being the gym rat that I was, I could not have been more stoked at the opportunity to play more competitive events outside of my regular season.
With the lack of a centralized place to look for these kinds of tournaments, it took me a long time to find out that there are some incredible, long-standing outdoor volleyball events put on across the country. Accordingly, that list I created for myself somehow keeps getting longer as I find more and more of these grassroots events that have a huge following and promise high-level competition along with high-level fun.
Waupaca, Motherlode, The Luau, Pinecraft, I’ve checked a lot of these off my list. This year, the AVP helped me to check off — at least — two more when I got to compete in The Clash in South Carolina in early May and now the notorious Pottstown Rumble.
Here are some of my takeaways.
The major grass events like The Clash, Pottstown Rumble, The Luau, The Smash, these tournaments have been around forever, yet have been less notable than the acclaimed AVP, CBVA, etc., tours. Flying under the radar of most of the country for years, these events have a HUGE turnout and huge following of loyal participants. This past weekend, the Rumble had over 1,000 teams. In its 29th year, it was clear that the Rumble was a well-oiled machine. These well-managed, well-established events have already drawn elite players for years, and with the addition of the AVP and additional prize money, these events only promise to get more competitive and elite.
Every grass tournament is a completely different game from each other, requiring completely different strategies.
The Clash is small-court grass triples, rally scoring, mostly beach rules.
Arriving at the The Clash with my team of Allie Wheeler and Jessica Gaffney — all three of us being complete rookies to the grass triples game — we had no idea what to expect besides try to pass, set, spike better than the other team.
It was so much more than that.
After getting smoked by the Midwest grass volleyball queen Kimi Sikora in pool play, we realized we had a lot to learn, and therefore sat down and studied the competition to figure out how everyone else was playing so we could copy what was working. For some teams, two blockers made sense. For others, one blocker dominating the net was better. After some experimentation and sneaking our way out of a three-way tie in pool play, we ended up finding some success and making the final.
Pottstown has its own unique set of rules that kept me on my toes the entire tournament.
They call it “old school,” big-court doubles, side-out scoring, tightest hand calls in the country, and no let serves. The rules are different enough they made a whole, amazing home-made rules video you must watch before even playing the event. Flipping score and reffing at Pottstown requires a lot more attention, I realized, as I found myself mindlessly flipping every time the ball hit the ground (like rally scoring) only to get kindly reminded that that is not how we play at the Pottstown Rumble by the regulars. Side-out scoring, I found out, was also really neat when I played about 20 points deep in pool play only to have the score remain at literally 0 to 0. I can say that me and partner Sarah Schermerhorn used the ‘block does not count as a touch’ rule once successfully for a kill.
This past winter I also played my second Pinecraft tournament.
Pinecraft is this incredible, enormous grass co-ed 6’s event put on by the Amish community in Sarasota, Florida. Pinecraft has it’s own set of rules, too. There are quite literally no doubles or lifts.
It’s the rule that there is no rule on hands. There are no antennas, and the courts are about two feet apart from each other so you can both hit around the pole to score but also not transition at all unless you want to smash into a player on the court next to you. You must have two women and four men, and women HAVE to set from the front row and from the middle.
This year, my husband Kibbee Jelks and I played with Team Davis, and Aurora and I had to study the Amish teams to learn how to not end up standing dead center of the court on defense with your face at the 10-foot line ready to get smashed by the opponents male hitters.
As you see, grass volleyball attire is a free-for-all.
The biggest question and a conversation hot topic for every grass event I’ve played is: What do I wear?
On the women’s side, I saw it all. Shorts, leggings, and bikini bottoms – do you protect your legs with leggings but die of heat? Do you wear bikini bottoms for the tan lines? Shorts for comfort?
All valid questions when approaching a grass court. What do you wear on your head? Visors for comfort? Ball caps because we are literally on a baseball field? I even played against someone wearing a beanie! On the men’s side, shirt or no shirt? I watched many of the guys braving the no-shirt life and sporting like a badge of honor some incredible grass/dirt burns on their chests. #GrassLife
The biggest most burning question — literally — in grass volleyball remains what the heck do I wear on my feet?
You see it all. Barefoot remains very popular among the ladies of all levels. Regular tennis shoes are also pretty popular and the most convenient, but also perhaps the most treacherous, depending on how old (lack of tread and grip) or how new (don’t expect them to be clean and pretty after a grass tournament).
Cleats would make sense, except for the fear of stepping on your opponent or partner and putting a hole in their foot. Turf shoes might be the best option here, as they are made for outdoor-type athletic activities but imagine spearing your partner during a scramble play.
The adversity of grass is what makes it the most fun.
There’s nothing quite like a little bit of suffering to bond people for life, and that is, in my opinion, why these grass events have such a loyal following.
You’re gonna suffer a little when you play grass. The rules and game are going to be different, so it’ll challenge you mentally. The surface you play on is completely unpredictable. It could be soft and fluffy grass, mostly dirt, or even mulch. No matter what, you are guaranteed to go home bleeding and sore if you gave it your all. It might rain, you might play a zillion games, you might not play the position you thought you would, well, all together the adversity of grass volleyball will keep you on your toes. It’s like indoor preseason in college: There’s nothing like that feeling of not being able to sit on the toilet or walk to really make you bond with your teammates.
The collaboration of the AVP with these major grassroots events is a huge win for the sport of volleyball.
Nothing encompasses the spirit of volleyball more than embracing the community of beach volleyball in all its diverse levels, backgrounds and history. While I’ll be taking a break from grass for a bit to focus on the beach scene for the summer, I look forward to my next opportunity for a little grass adversity and fun.
Aurora Davis and Lydia Smith won the Pottstown women’s pro division, defeating Megan Gebhard and Katie Lindstrom in the final.
The men’s pro title went to Andrei Belov and Eric Lucas, who beat Nolan Albrecht and Marc Fornaciari in the championship match. Complete men’s and women’s pro results are listed below, with a link for all divisions.
There is also more on the tournament Facebook page, including a ton of photos: https://www.facebook.com/PottstownRumble
Kim Hildreth is a professional beach volleyball player who lives in Florida. Follow her on Instagram at @kim_hildreth and click here to learn more about Health Coaching With Kim.
Women’s Pro doubles (43 teams)
17. De Vine/Pickering
Men’s Pro doubles (136 teams):
Results for all divisions can be found here.