Beach volleyball tournament makes big splash in Vero


Beach volleyball may not be as popular in Vero as it is in Southern California, but it is beginning to make a splash.

Couple a first class facility in an ideal location with a sport on a popularity surge for participants and spectators alike, and people will come. 

What people came for this time is what organizers envision as our hometown version of Field of Dreams. On a glorious day in mid-November, beach volleyball teams representing six universities from across the state of Florida met for a tournament on the Vero Beach Volleyball (VBVB) sand courts tucked behind Vero Fitness (formerly the Jungle Club) on 6th Ave. 

“Stetson University Head Coach Kristina Hernandez reached out a few months ago to see if our facility was available to host this event,” VBVB Owner and Director Matt Heath told us. “VBVB is one of the few facilities with permanent courts large enough to host an event of this size. Our central location on the Treasure Coast was another bonus and made us a middle ground (geographically) for most of the schools.”

In addition to Stetson University, the other participating schools were Florida Atlantic University, Tampa University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Palm Beach Atlantic University, and the University of North Florida. 

An estimated 250 athletes and spectators converged for the all-day affair last Saturday where young women from all over the nation engaged in pairs competition in what was a showcase exhibition for a sport looking to expand its footprint at the high school level and beyond. 

“Events like these give the young athletes of Vero and our surrounding communities the opportunity to witness firsthand – and have close contact with – athletes who have achieved their dream of playing in college,” Heath said. “Two of our VBVB athletes recently signed letters of intent to play beach volleyball in college.

“Presley Murray practices with VBVB and currently attends Ft. Pierce Central High School. Next year she will play for the University of North Florida. Carly Lenhardt, a longtime member of VBVB, attends Vero Beach High School and will represent Mercer University in Macon, GA in 2024. Carly helps with our Sandy Feet Program for beginners and has a direct impact on the future of our sport in that way. Both are exceptional role models for our younger athletes. Their success adds credibility to the quality of the program we run here in Vero.

“VBVB will enter its seventh year of existence in 2022. We have seen our sport and our program blossom from primarily a summer sport to one played year round. Winter is now one of our busiest seasons. Clubs from northern states like to come down to Vero (for obvious reasons). We have also seen beach volleyball become an official high school sport. VBHS was the first school on the Treasure Coast to have a beach team. Last year they finished fifth in the state finals.”

That’s the blueprint. Examples ranging from lacrosse, rowing and pickleball preceded beach volleyball in establishing this pattern locally. Activities that were mostly relegated to casual gatherings or clubs gain traction with a wider audience and enter the mainstream primarily through the efforts of dedicated and enthusiastic supporters. 

“I have been involved with the sport since 1993,” Heath explained. “I played professionally for about 10 years on both the domestic and international tours. For about nine years I have coached athletes from beginners all the way up to Olympians. In fact we have two-time Olympian Nick Lucena coming to town in December for a clinic. We like to bring in as many coaches as possible so our athletes can benefit from hearing perspectives and game theories from some of the brightest minds.”

VBVB is a nine court facility capable of featuring a variety of year round programs and events, including a social league for adults, so presumably a chiseled physique is not an absolute prerequisite. Attracting six college teams for a one day tournament is but the latest “if you build it, they will come” dream come true for Heath and many others.

“Personally, I think it was pretty cool to have an event this size in our town of Vero Beach.” Heath said. 

Photos by Kaila Jones

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