By Russ Ham
Beach volleyball returns to the playas of La Paz in April. NORCECA, the continental volleyball confederation, is including a stop in La Paz. Five days of beach volleyball will be played on sand courts along the malecón beginning April 7th. Nubia Esthela Barraza Anaya (President of the Asociación Sudcaliforniana de Voleibol) and José Avila Geraldo (Director General of the Instituto Sudcaliforniano del Deporte (INSUDE) led the effort to convince NORCECA to include La Paz on this year’s tour.
NORCECA is the North and Central America and Caribbean sanctioning body for all types of volleyball. Their first championships were organized in 1968, making 2017 their 49th year. This year’s Beach Volleyball tour includes 14 tournaments in 13 countries. Mexico is the only country that will host two events; the other Mexico event is in Guaymas and precedes the La Paz date.
La Paz earned a spot on this year’s tour due to the overwhelming success of last year’s event, which drew 12,000 spectators. The 2016 tournament was a qualifier for the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro; 2017 is not an Olympic year, but the results from this year’s event here will count as qualifiers for other world volleyball tournaments. Last year’s champions were Canadians Julie Gordon and Brandie Wilkerson (women’s champs) and Cubans Sergio Reynaldo González and Nivaldo Díaz Gómez (men’s champs). Each pair defeated teams from the United States in their respective finals.
Beach volleyball is a specialized version of the indoor game. It is played barefoot in the sand by teams of two, rather than six, on a slightly smaller court (each side is 8 square meters rather than nine). Each set is played to a score of 21, or to 15 for the deciding set in best-of-three matches. No substitutions are allowed and no coaching can take place during the match. The teams swap sides after every 7 points (or in a deciding set, after every 5 points).
Last year’s events were free to the public and drew big crowds tot he temporary bleachers. This is a great opportunity to see top-flight athletes from close quarters.