Beach volleyball is a relatively new sport in the Central Valley and one Clovis man is doing his best to help it grow.
Michael DeRaffaele created and is club director of Elite Beach Volleyball, a program that aims to help introduce players to the game and improve the skills of already experienced players.
There are 69 players on this year’s club. The club typically is made up of girls ages 12-18. Experience of the players varies but most of them have played indoor volleyball in middle school.
Players come from various areas in California, DeRaffaele explained.
“They come from as far as Visalia, Bakersfield and Atwater to play for our club,” he said.
DeRaffaele said that be created the club after he moved back from Arizona and saw there weren’t any beach volleyball teams. He saw the need to create a league where kids can develop their volleyball skill during the summer.
Playing beach volleyball is a great way to improve indoor volleyball skills, DeRaffaele said.
“Working in the sand instead of indoors you become so much faster and more explosive on the court indoors. Your vertical [jump] increases. Even if beach volleyball isn’t your love, it is a great training tool to become a better indoor player.”
But the sport isn’t just about improving the on-court skills of the athletes. DeRaffaele said that he wants to help prepare them for what lies ahead for them in the real world.
“We want to strengthen our athletes mentally, physically and emotionally. We want to prepare these girls for life. We play sports to learn life lessons to prepare for our future. Teamwork, cooperation, humility. We learn these things here in sports,” DeRaffaele said.
Unlike indoor volleyball, beach volleyball is played two-on-two instead of the customary 6-on-6. DeRaffaele said that that causes players to rely on each other more heavily and builds teamwork
Instead of a league in which a team has a set schedule of opponents, Elite Beach Volleyball’s season consists of a series of tournaments throughout the summer from the middle of May to early August.
Tournament rules vary slightly but they generally start out with pool play and the winners advance on to a single elimination style.
So far this season, the team has played tournaments in places such as Pismo, Santa Cruz and other areas along the coast.
The team also plays in Clovis and DeRaffaele said that the city has been very helpful with getting a venue in which the team can play.
He said the parks supervisor for the city Eric Aller has been instrumental in that process.
Athletes that join the team pay a $700 membership fee which includes gear and travel cost.