EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — On Friday, UTEP director of athletics Jim Senter announced that beach volleyball will join the miners’ sports lineup in the spring of 2023.
The addition of Beach will give UTEP a total of 17 Division I teams. It is UTEP’s first sports addition since softball began competition in 2004.
“We couldn’t be more excited about starting a beach volleyball program that will be in good hands with Coach Wallis… As our Miner volleyball team has made rapid strides in recent years, beach volleyball has continued its rise to national prominence. It was natural that we brought UTEP and Beach Volleyball together. It promises to be an exciting spectator sport, one that our fans can enjoy in the best weather our country has to offer.”
UTEP Director of Athletics Jim Senter
UTEP Volleyball Coach Ben Wallis will also serve as the Miners’ first Beach Volleyball Coach. Wallis has led the Miners to a record of 47-30 in three seasons (2019-present) with a score of 22-16 in C-USA.
Last year, the Miners enjoyed a record-breaking campaign, as they recorded the best win percentage in school history (24-8, .750) and played in a postseason tournament (NIVC) for the first time.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Wallis said. “It will be a lot of work. But we’ve done it before. We have built UTEP into a viable indoor program. We look forward to growing UTEP Beach Volleyball into a program that can compete for a congressional championship in the near future.”
Conference USA added beach volleyball as a sponsored sport last fall. This spring, a total of seven schools are participating in Beach as affiliate members of C-USA – Coastal Carolina, Florida Atlantic, FIU, Georgia State, Southern Miss, UAB and ULM.
Officials said All is expected to continue competing in Beach as affiliate members of C-USA through the spring of 2023.
“Conference USA is one of the toughest Beach conferences in the country, and with the addition of UTEP as the eighth Beach team in the league, C-USA will automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships in 2023,” said Wallis.
According to UTEP officials, the beach volleyball season will begin in late February and last until April. The average beach team is made up of 15-20 student athletes with a total of six scholarships available. There will be some crossover in student and athlete representation between the UTEP Volleyball and Beach Volleyball rosters.
The format of the competition is two teams compete against each other through a series of pairs. Each pairing plays a best-of-three format, with the winner being determined in a best-of-five result.
The NCAA held its first National Beach Volleyball Championship in 2016 and the NCAA Championship field has expanded to 16 teams by 2022. The sport has seen rapid growth over the past five years with 175 programs across the country currently participating, including 64 in Division I .
The miners’ competition ground for beach volleyball has yet to be determined.
UTEP Beach Volleyball Q&A with Coach Ben Wallis
How exciting is this for UTEP to start a Beach program?
“It’s really exciting. It’s been a few years. When I first got the job in 2019 Jim [Senter] and Julie [Levesque] approached me about this, and we started to brainstorm about how we could make a really competitive, exciting beach volleyball program here in El Paso. They want me to initially be the director of volleyball to run both programs, thinking we could potentially hire a beach-only coach. But for now I’m going to run both programs. I think we have a really nice financial plan for the program, and the possibilities here in El Paso are pretty endless for beach volleyball. Most people don’t realize that the state of Texas has a really large beach-only population. There are really good beach clubs across the state ready to send recruits and prospects to El Paso to play at UTEP.”
What was your previous involvement in Beach Volleyball?
“When I was young, I played sand volleyball for the first time. I grew up in Europe watching volleyball, and when I moved to New Mexico there was – and still is – a great beach and grass in Albuquerque. So I grew up playing outside [volleyball] for indoors. And it has helped me in many ways to understand the game of indoor volleyball and its complexity, because in outdoor volleyball you have to be a complete player. You can’t just be good at jumping up and killing. You must be able to pass and defend and you must be able to play with six skills: serve, pass, set, dig, attack and block. You must be very good at them all. And so that’s my involvement at a younger age. And I recently told some beach friends that I know enough about beach volleyball to be dangerous, but I have a lot of work to do on the training and development side that I will be doing this spring to prepare for our players who will be out this fall and come in the spring of 2023.”
How do you put together a team?
“You mix and match early on. I talked for some time with about 10 people who have already done this, some coaches from all over the country who have done it in many different models. You need to infuse some of your indoor players early on with some kids playing alone on the beach. It’s a scholarship program here at UTEP, so we’re starting slowly and hopefully progressing to a fully funded program by 2025 or 2026. And so you have some scholarship money to get some beach kids early on. I think you need to infuse some international kids like we’ve done with our other sports programs where you can get that beach feeling right away with kids who have been doing this for a long time. And then merge them with our indoor children, to whom this will be strange. It will make them better to get out of here and play a completely different sport. We have a good plan. I’ve already talked to some local kids and let them know that a Beach team is coming and we just waited for the announcement so we could really get moving. I think some of our players will cross over and play both. And I know that our seniors who are graduating are very interested in qualifying for another year in a completely different sport. So we definitely have some irons in the fire.”
How does the success of the indoor team help you recruit players for Beach?
“It is immeasurable. The success of our indoor team has brought a lot of excitement and attention to the city of El Paso. And also knowing that UTEP is now a winning volleyball program helps a lot. I’ve had to send Beach kids away and delete a lot of their emails for the past 2-3 years because we didn’t have a Beach program. And now we can recruit kids who want to play both [indoor and outdoor], which is still happening. And we can only recruit Beach kids who want to stay in the state of Texas. Kids want to stay in Texas a lot, and there are really only five fully funded beach programs in the state. There are many opportunities to get this program very competitive quickly. That’s the plan. Recruiting a full roster in less than six months will be a daunting task, but that’s why they gave me the job. Let’s go out and get to work!”
What is your five-year plan in terms of where you want to get the program?
“We’re going to Conference USA, and it’s one of the toughest Beach conferences in the country – even harder than some of the Power 5 conferences, because you have some really historic Beach programs at this conference. UAB is the very first [Beach program in C-USA]. Coastal Carolina can recruit almost anyone with their facilities and where they are located. Southern Miss has a wonderful beach volleyball facility. Georgia State is already known in the Top-25. FIU and Florida Atlantic are in Miami and Boca Raton, so they can recruit anyone to play beach volleyball there. It’s a very tough conference. That’s going to help us because good players want to play against good competition and they want to play in good conferences. I think we will be very competitive soon. Time will tell when it comes to the facility and what it looks like, and how we grow this program. But I’m looking forward to the way it’s been modeled already, and I’m excited that we have administrators and people on campus who want to get it right.”
What do you tell the casual Miner fan curious about this show, why they should support it?
“It is an exciting and fun sport. It’s totally different from indoor because you get to know the players a bit better because they play in a partnership. It’s a shorter, faster version of indoor volleyball. You can finish a tournament in an hour. It’s sort of an infusion of volleyball and tennis, and you have to be good and smart about matching your pairs and the numbers they play on. If anyone has watched us grow over the past three years and the level of the athlete who has played indoors, it is immediately apparent how exciting and fast-paced the beach scene can be. And you get the chance to go outside in the sun and maybe have a cold cocktail, instead of sitting inside all the time. It’s just a different feeling, and also a totally different environment and atmosphere on the beach side.”
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