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Sarasota Herald Tribune (Florida)


BRADENTON — Beginning last January, Madison Allen's journey around Bradenton Christian's campus became a little more enjoyable.

That's when the school started breaking ground on its sand volleyball courts. And as Allen went from one class to another, the senior got a chance to see the project grow closer to completion.

Allen and the rest of the BCS sand volleyball team recently conducted their first official practice on the two courts, which are located next to the school's gymnasium and weight room, and beyond the left field fence of the baseball field.

On Thursday, the Panthers won their first match on their new courts, a 3-0 victory over St. Petersburg Catholic. Six of BCS' seven matches are home this spring.

"It's pretty nice, especially my senior year, being able to play at campus. And having this here is really nice," she said. "We get to have more fans come out and more classmates support us. It brings more Panther pride."

Bradenton Christian was the first school in Manatee County to field a sand volleyball team last spring when the Panthers competed in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference. The Panthers practiced at Tom Bennett Park and played home matches on the courts along the Bradenton Riverwalk, but longed for a home of their own.

"It was big for us to be the first school (in Manatee County) to have the sport," said Andrea Kneser, who coaches BCS sand and indoor volleyball teams, "and the facility to host games."

So Kneser, who is also the SSAC's volleyball commissioner, went to the school's administration and asked to have the courts built.

"It was definitely me coming to them and planting the seed. But parent buy-in was critical and administration buy-in was even more critical," she said. "I'm very, very blessed to be a part of this school and the administration, that they love to see sports grow, and they love the fellowship the girls bring."

Helping Kneser's cause was the growth of sand volleyball as a high school sport. The SSAC fielded 22 teams during its inaugural season of 2017, including Bradenton Christian and Cardinal Mooney, and Kneser said that number has nearly tripled this year. Braden River and Port Charlotte have joined the conference, which Kneser said has grown so much that teams now have to get through a regional tournament in order to qualify for state.

"I had to cut people off this year," Kneser said.

Through sponsorships and donations, work on the courts began last winter. Kneser wasn't sure how much the final cost was but said most of the initial quotes were around $20,000.

"We're still working out different things, but it happened," Kneser said. "And there was a moment where I didn't think it was going to happen, and I was OK with that. I was trying to think of a Plan B and C."

Personalized Panthers nets, along with the poles, arrived last week. And as the Panthers made their way through first official home practice, Kneser found herself working with nearly twice as many girls as last year, with her roster swelling from 10 to 18.

"It drew a lot more players this year," Allen said of the courts. "We have a lot more girls out."

Beach volleyball is played between teams of two rather than the six used in indoor matches, and each team fields four pairs per match.

"A lot of girls will just come out to practice," Kneser said. "Half of them are middle-schoolers that are out here. You have to think this was an investment to our school and to our program, and what it's going to do for our indoor program."

The volleyball polls can be removed from the court, which will allow BCS' other teams to use the sand courts, as well. And Kneser hopes to add a few more features, including a small fence to protect the spectators — there are no bleachers so fans will have to bring chairs — and a tiki hut that will serve as a concession stand. She hopes to name the court after a sponsor, though Kneser likes the current name — The Beach At BCS.

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March 6, 2018


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