Sand volleyball in Oregon.
Not exactly a perfect match, but Oregon's newest women's varsity sport is trying to make it work.
The Ducks will begin their short inaugural season at 4 p.m. Friday at South Carolina, the first of 10 matches spread out over the next three weeks.
"We'll take it as our first year," Oregon coach Stacy Metro said. "We're saying we're just going to go out there and have fun, but we're pretty competitive people, so I have a feeling when we get out there it's going to be a whole different attitude."
Oregon is scheduled to play five matches this weekend in Columbia, S.C. After playing the Gamecocks, the Ducks play two matches Saturday against College of Charleston and LSU. They'll wrap up the weekend with two matches Sunday against Louisiana-Monroe and Alabama-Birmingham.
Metro said that in the 14 practices Oregon has had outdoors at the sand volleyball courts at Amazon Park, much of the focus has been on working on ball control, communication and getting used to the sand again.
"A lot of them might have played it back home," Metro said of her roster of 10 players, all from Oregon's indoor varsity team. "Just getting back and doing it and also taking advantage of the days when we can get out here. ... We can just do what we can and see how it goes."
Weather has been the Ducks' only opponent. Metro said they've practiced most mornings, only going indoors if it's raining.
"Even if it's damp and foggy or super, super cold, you have to come out," she said. "You just adapt. The sun will be great, but in any other weather condition we're good."
Junior Natalie Bookout Gonzalez, a defensive specialist during the indoor season, said she's played beach for years back home. Like many of her teammates, she's from Southern California.
"It's actually fun to hit and score points," said Bookout Gonzalez, who played in 49 sets in 2013 and scored all four of her points serving.
Bookout Gonzalez has been paired with Oregon's all-American outside hitter Liz Brenner, who led the Ducks in 2013 with 476 points. The 6-foot-1 Brenner and 5-foot-1 Bookout Gonzalez might seem like an odd match, but in the finesse game of sand volleyball, Metro said their combined skills of hitting and defense actually works well.
"Natalie is doing really well," Metro said. "I think she's doing better than we thought. She's moved up and playing with Liz. That's been good."
Metro has spoken in the past about how she believes that playing on the sand helped her indoors, and she said she can already see improvements with this group of Ducks.
"We want them to be smarter about the game," Metro said. "Knowing the situation and calming down and figuring out how to win instead of just playing. Indoors you can get caught up in just playing. Out here, you have to be smart or you're not going to win."
Bookout Gonzalez said there are physical improvements as well.
"I felt like I could fly," she said when the team went indoors recently. "You feel faster, definitely. In the sand you kind of get stuck sometimes."
Among the differences between the indoor and sand volleyball seasons are the scoring and format of matches. In the sand season, two-person teams play best-of-three matches with the first two sets scoring to 21. The third set is to 15. In the dual meet format, a team must win three of five matches.
Oregon became the seventh Pac-12 program to add sand volleyball when it announced it in September, joining Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC. In January, Washington also added the sport, and according to the school, there are now 39 NCAA-sponsored sand volleyball teams. The NCAA requires 40 schools to participate in an emerging sport for two consecutive seasons before it will sponsor a national championship event.
Metro said there aren't any plans for building a sand facility for the team, but she said they're hoping for one in the next few years so people can catch a match.
Oregon plays three more matches over spring break in Los Angeles. It's scheduled to play Cal State Bakersfield on Wednesday, followed by matches against No. 2 USC and Cal State Northridge on Thursday.
The Ducks finish their season April 12 in Portland against Washington and Boise State.