Watching his son play on the Santa Monica High boys volleyball team last year, Kurt Schwengel couldn’t help but see a glaring deficiency in the local sports landscape.
It struck him as odd that Santa Monica, known around the world for its beaches and outdoor activities, had a strong indoor high school program with no boys sand volleyball team to speak of.
“With Santa Monica being a mecca of beach volleyball, it was a natural fit to start a beach team,” he said.
And that’s exactly what he did.
Schwengel will coach the Vikings in their inaugural season in the Interscholastic Beach Volleyball League, a program of the Southern Pacific Volleyball Committee under the AAU umbrella.
The league began with eight girls teams in 2012 and expanded to 30 schools with six divisions the following year, according to the league’s website. The boys program, meanwhile, began with 15 schools in 2013 and has grown quickly. As many as 45 teams will participate this season, Schwengel said.
The creation of the boys squad is a landmark in the rich history of Vikings athletics and a chance for the school’s indoor volleyball players to develop their skills in the sand. Indeed, the fall beach season will double as training for the members of the boys indoor spring team, which is coached by Liane Sato.
“If you have any weakness, [beach volleyball] exposes it,” Schwengel said. “If you’re tall, you can be a middle blocker and never set or pass a ball. On the beach, if you can’t pass, set and kill the ball, you get exposed very quickly. You truly have to be an all-around player. It’s great for our guys because they’re really athletic. I was surprised at how well they’ve transitioned to the beach game.”
Almost all of the returning Samohi boys indoor players have joined the sand team, Schwengel said. The Vikings will field three varsity pairs and three junior varsity pairs, similar to the format in tennis.
Their top team features senior Tyler Logan and sophomore John Schwengel, who joined forces to win an AAU national championship last month in Hermosa Beach.
The squad also includes Rowdy Lennon, Sam Wittert, Alex Wessel, Jonathan Pritchard, Sam Rietta, Skylar Sam, Max Priebe, Ryan Rooke, Jake Mitchell, Ryan Logan, Kyle Zolkin, Keve Kemper and Johnny Wilson.
Members of the team have been practicing two or three times a week all summer.
“We’re getting a good feel,” the coach said. “The team looks fantastic. I think the team can compete for a title in the first year.”
Schwengel said the costs of launching the program were “minimal” because beach volleyball doesn’t require much equipment.
“We may be fundraising in the future to send a team to some non-local tournaments,” Schwengel said, “but other than that all we need is sand and sun.”
The Samohi girls beach volleyball team was launched last year and competed in the Ocean Division against Culver City, El Segundo, Palisades and Van Nuys. The boys divisions might look slightly different due to the league’s rapid expansion.
Most matches will be played at Dockweiler Beach or in Santa Monica at the Ocean Park courts. The season is slated to begin with a tournament on Aug. 29 and continue into November with postseason play.
“That’s going to be quite a scene,” Schwengel said of the opening event. “Hopefully we’ll line the court with fans.”