Beach volleyball makes semifinal run


Ryan Talley

Sophomore Preslie Boswell (12) returns a shot against the University of Mobile on Feb. 11, 2023.

Brendan Heffernan, Staff Writer

Head beach volleyball coach Robert Pitre said his team’s goal was to avoid peaking too early and to get better with every competition this year. With the way the program finished its inaugural season, Pitre said it’s clear that his athletes took that message to heart.

The Wolf Pack beach volleyball team advanced to the semifinals of the Sun Conference Tournament before falling to the eventual conference champions, Webber International. The Wolf Pack ended the season ranked 15th in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics final coaches poll, and Pitre said his team “exceeded all expectations” this season.

“To put ourselves in a position to make the championship game was just an awesome thing to be a part of,” said Pitre, who also serves as an assistant coach for Loyola’s indoor volleyball program. “From start to finish, we were a completely different team.”

The road to the conference tournament began in January, as the beach team began developing their “sand legs” in less than tropical conditions. Pitre said the rigorous conditions of their preseason training schedule helped the team develop the toughness to compete until the season’s final whistle.

“Cold weather, practicing from seven to nine in the morning, it’s not fun being out there in those temperatures,” Pitre said. “The focus for us was just to keep getting better, to not focus on wins and losses.”

Another challenge the team overcame this year was a lack of experience, Pitre said. 9 out of 12 athletes on the team were underclassmen, and some had never played on a sand surface before. Adapting from playing on indoor courts at a high level to competing on the beach can be a humbling experience, Pitre said.

“For an athlete who plays at a pretty high level on the indoor side of things, you feel really unathletic when you get into the sand,” he said. “It’s tough for those kids to be able to stay focused and know that it’s not necessarily my technique or my ability, it’s just getting used to the elements, and they did a really good job of staying focused.”

The team finished the season 10-16 overall, with a few close losses in conference play. Pitre said his team played one of the most difficult schedules in the country, which helped them to play their best down the stretch.

“We played a pretty stacked schedule, probably top five in the NAIA in terms of the number of matches or duals played,” Pitre said. “You could see how that schedule benefited us going into that conference tournament. We had the close wins, the close losses, and really we all bought in and knew that we could do exactly what we did.”

Going forward, Pitre said the future is bright for the Wolf Pack, as they expect to have six beach-only athletes next season training on the sand in both the spring and the fall as the program looks to reach new heights in year two.

“It’s going to be a lot of work to coach indoor and beach at the same time, but that’s what it takes to build a great program,” Pitre said. “I couldn’t be more excited.”