Bradford Beach stepped up its intensity this weekend as it became the final stop for 850 junior beach volleyball players from across the country for the 2016 Junior Beach Tour National Championships.
Mike Paaluhi is the manager of the tournament and says Bradford Beach was the perfect location for this major competition. The beach’s wide open area allowed for 56 volleyball courts to be put up for the weekend.
“Bradford is a great place, got a great beach location along the lake and weather over the summertime,” said Paaluhi. “So we wanted to take advantage of it.”
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The tournament fell during one of the hottest heat waves to hit the city so far. However, spectators like Kathe Yamagata of Dulles, Virginia, says the lake a few feet away from them is a “refreshing way” to cool down.
“We have this really cold lake everyone can cool down in,” said Yamagata. “It’s awesome! It’s like an ice bath.”
The three-day tournament at Bradford was the final stop for participants competing in the 2016 Junior Beach Tour. The competition was for children ages 12 to 16. The competition had a record of 850 players, over 100 of whom were from Wisconsin.
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Paaluhi credits the record-breaking numbers due to the upcoming Olympic games in Rio and also because the NCAA held its beach volleyball championship this past April.
“Every year we have the Olympics, everybody gets fired up and wants to be part of that,” says Paaluhi. “Especially with our USA program, developing those kids and bringing them up to that level to see kids (in the program) make it to the Olympics.”
The program is focusing on getting players ready for the 2020 and 2024 Olympics and to play on a professional level.
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Some players, like Peyton Yamagata and Ek Zimmerman of Virginia, come from a gym volleyball background and have been only playing on the sand for a couple of years. However, the two have enjoyed the switch from the gym to the sand.
“I think it’s better because there’s only two players, not six,” says Yamagata. “You rely on that other person and only yourself.”
The pairs coach, Seng Chiu, says with less players on the sand, players are expected to do more.
“Each kid has to be the most well-rounded player,” says Chiu. “Playing server, digger, blocker, everything. They have to do all of the skills.”
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With more skills to learn and more positions to cover on the sand, Yamagata and Zimmerman say they spend almost every day practicing and competing. Despite the commitment level, the pairs do not mind it.
“It’s just beach and school,” says Yamagata.
“It’s worth giving up on a lot of school things,” Zimmerman added.
Even if you’re not looking to be on the next Olympic Beach Volleyball team, the girls encourage everyone to come out to Bradford.
“Everyone loves the beach,” says Zimmerman.
“Just come out here and watch or you can play,” added Yamagata.