Tory Paranagua recalls that music and the aroma of grilled burgers filled the air the first time she played sand volleyball. Absent referees, calls were made on the honor system during the tournament in Dripping Springs.
As a 15-year-old, Paranagua enjoyed the picnic-like atmosphere, digging her toes in the sand and the friendships that developed on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
She didn’t figure that sand volleyball would eventually become her entry into collegiate athletics. On Wednesday, though, Paranagua, an Anderson High senior, and her Trojans teammate Honor Baker signed national letters of intent to play the sport in college.
Paranagua signed with Florida State, while Baker opted for Cal State Bakersfield.
Known worldwide as beach volleyball, the sport has gained popularity in the United States in recent years as a result of the success of Olympic gold medalists Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings. Now, sand volleyball is on the brink of becoming an NCAA-sanctioned sport for women. With 30 different college teams currently competing on the sand, only 10 more schools need to add teams in the next two years in order for sand volleyball to become an official NCAA sport in 2016.
“I never dreamed a few years ago that colleges were going to offer scholarships for sand volleyball,” said Paranagua, adding that Austin is a hotbed for the sport because of the numerous sand courts in the area.
A 5-foot-11-inch outside hitter, Paranagua said she was recruited heavily. Last spring, she followed a trail of recruiting trips through California, visiting UCLA, USC, Pepperdine, Cal State Bakersfield and Long Beach State. Two weeks later, she made trips to Florida State and Georgia State before finally settling on FSU.
Baker, a 5-9 outside hitter, took up indoor volleyball at age 10. She began to play sand volleyball at 13 as a cross-training method designed to improve her indoor game.
“My love for the sport grew immensely after that,” Baker said. “I like the intensity and focus you need to have at all times. It requires you to have endurance and a strong mentality to hold you through a tough match.”
Both Paranagua and Baker received partial scholarships from their respective schools.
NCAA sand volleyball programs field five two-player teams, seeded 1 through 5, and each school has a total of five scholarships to divide among its players.
Baker said she was lured to California after Cal State Bakersfield coach Jolene Shepardson came to Austin to watch her play.
“After doing my research on the school, we scheduled a visit for me to participate in their sand camp that summer,” Baker said. “I admired the coaches and saw a future there with what I wanted to do.”
CSU Bakersfield added sand volleyball as an intercollegiate sport in 2013, opting to drop its women’s tennis program. The Roadrunners compiled a 5-7 record in 2013.
Florida State, meanwhile, was 16-2 in 2013, its first season of sand volleyball. The Seminoles will begin their 2014 season in March on St. Augustine Beach.