Carly Demarque contributed to this report.
When the Stanford women’s beach volleyball team kicks off their season on Saturday against Santa Clara, the team will look very familiar to indoor fans of the Cardinal. Of the 18 players on Stanford’s roster, only 5 are beach-only athletes according to head coach Andrew Fuller. Which is to say – the entirety of Stanford’s indoor title-winning roster that returns next season, with the exception of Halland McKenna, will be on the beach. That includes the heart of the tallest lineup to ever win an NCAA indoor title that includes 6’6″ Audriana Fitzmorris, 6’6″ national Fresman of the Year Kathryn Plummer, and 6’8″ Merete Lutz, in a lineup that has height unique in the indoor game, but down-right one-of-a-kind on the beach.
“With this indoor group coming out to join the five beach only athletes it’s been really fun,” Fuller said of the group. “I think that anyone that saw their run during the fall, could really feel the amazing energy that they have as a group. They have this youthful spirit that is super fun to have at practice and obviously translates really well when competing. So we have just been overjoyed with having them out there and having that energy that they’re creating as a group and cultivating together.”
The Cardinal finished last season with just a 5-10 record, but were still ranked 13th in the pre-season AVCA polls in the second year of NCAA championship volleyball. Fuller says that even with raised expectations, he’s not putting any limits on what the team can achieve – especially seeing how they broke through to win a title with the youngest-ever team to advance to a final 4.
“I don’t put any limits on this group. Whether it’s in rankings, who we’re going to compete against or who’s competing to start on our roster – we just don’t like to offer it with any sort of limits. I think that they could compete against anyone and I know it’s cliche but we’re so focused on staying in the moment, in the present, it would just be a disservice to them and a program if we focused on anything but that. I just really don’t want to put any limits on what they can do. There are all these narratives of what a group of freshmen can do in indoor this season and they smashed that. So I want to give them the opportunity to be able to smash any preconceived notions about what their potential is.”
Rather than fearing the inexperience of the indoor players, many of whom have not grown up playing on the beach, he says he looks forward to embracing the fresh take they’ll have on the beach game, without the complacency of having grown up playing the same players.
“I think the thing that really excites me about this group is that a lot of them haven’t grown up playing beach like the others on the roster have. They have all the skills to play the sport but they’re really doing some creative stuff and so as a program we like to have concepts that they get to fill it in and try to experiment. So they’re going to be doing some stuff that you just don’t see a lot in college beach volleyball because a lot of players have grown up playing against each other and with all that familiarity it can create mimicry. So for some of our players it’s so fresh and new that they’re doing different things and we have to be really open a lot and not bring any preconceived notions of how beach volleyball is supposed to be played. Especially with the size and athleticism of some of the players on our squad. You know, there aren’t a lot of benchmarks of how someone that’s 6’6″ is supposed to play beach volleyball because there have been so few people of that size playing the sport. So the way that beach coaching has gone historically has been – we got players of this size and athletic ability and so we’ll try to build a framework for those people, so when you have people that just bust that mold wide open it can really evolve the game. We’re excited about what’s happening within our program.”