Beach veterans Roenicke and Ledoux ready for new opportunities in Sand Volleyball
Oct. 12, 2011
Long Beach, Calif. - One likely pairing for Long Beach State's first season is between Tara Roenicke and Caitlin Ledoux, who have a history of playing both with and against each other locally as well as worldwide in junior beach volleyball tournaments.
Explosive growth in the numbers of players involved in sand volleyball prompted the NCAA to bring the sport to the collegiate level. But why has the sport taken off so fast?
One answer is that it requires a balance between all skills, making it more available to players not of skyscraper height, but also requiring an athleticism that brings a unique challenge to anyone playing out on the beach.
"I think people are starting to realize what an intense sport it is," said Ledoux. "It takes a lot of skill, and it's not just people running around in swimsuits." Roenicke agrees, noting sand volleyball's differences with the indoor game. "In indoor, you can be just a setter, or just a hitter, but on the beach, you have to be able to do everything."
In Roenicke and Ledoux, the 49ers have two players that not only are benefitting from the sport's growth, but were part of its early stages of increased opportunities in development.
Roenicke began playing at 11 years old, and steadily found greater success, eventually finding her way into the USA Volleyball sand program, and has represented the United States in four Junior World Championships.
"It's been amazing," said Roenicke. "Obviously, not many people get to even see these places, and to get to play volleyball while we're there, it can't get much better than that."
Playing internationally by 2008, Roenicke won the 2009 Australian Youth Olympic Festival with Summer Ross, and then represented Team USA for a third time in 2010, winning the Gold at the Junior World Championships in Turkey.
"We were the underdogs the whole time, but we'd won a big tournament a couple years earlier in Australia," said Roenicke. "So we just kept saying `We're going to repeat.'"
Ledoux's start did not come as early as Roenicke's, and her rise wasn't quite as meteoric. After getting introduced to beach volleyball by a club coach, Ledoux made the nearly 100-mile drive to the beach for her first tournament. "We lost every single game we played in, and I got ridiculously sunburned. It was epically terrible, but I loved it anyway. I knew I wanted to keep playing."
After not finding any success through her first summer in volleyball, a change in her indoor club team gave Ledoux a fresh start on the beach as well, teaming up with current 49er Jocelyn Neely for the first time at the U16 level. "In the very first tournament that we played together, no practice or anything, we actually won it," said Ledoux. "We did really, really well together, and had a little group with Tara and her partner at the time. It seemed like it was the four of us in the finals of every tournament."
After practicing together and competing against each other as members of the same indoor club team, Roenicke and Ledoux were finally matched up for beach volleyball prior to the 2009 Junior World Championships after both made it through the Team USA tryouts for the second time.
With three weeks of practice going into the tournament, the tandem got ready for their debut on the world stage. "It was pretty easy getting comfortable, since we'd known each other for a long time," said Ledoux. Roenicke agreed, saying "Caitlin and I understand each other and communicate very well." Roenicke said. "It's fun to play with someone you know."
Still, the pair was at a disadvantage, playing against teams that had come in with years of experience together. The duo still found great success though, finishing in fifth place, which was the highest finish for any American team at the World Junior Championships up to that point. "It was a liability, but I still feel like we did really well," noted Ledoux.
With a two-year difference in age, Roenicke and Ledoux split back up to play in separate divisions, but would occasionally reunite, and received one more big opportunity together after a victory by Roenicke.
Coming off of a win in a qualifying tournament, Roenicke was left without a partner for an FIVB tour stop in Korea during the summer of 2010, and Ledoux was ready to join her once more. Facing not just amateurs but professional teams as well, Roenicke and Ledoux stepped up the challenge.
"The teams there were so much older, and they took it so seriously, and we were just two teenage girls coming into their world," said Ledoux. "They didn't like the fact that we took fourth in the tournament, won a lot of money, and couldn't accept it. But they were still great to us, and we learned a lot from them. It was such an eye-opening experience to see women that were playing for a living."
With both looking towards that kind of a future on the sand, the team of Ledoux and Roenicke stands to give Long Beach State a leg up on the competition in its first year of sand volleyball, but also a chance to have more names to add to the 49ers distinguished tradition of producing beach volleyball greats.
"I love playing beach, and I'm sad that I'm not younger so that I could play all four years," said Ledoux. "But on the other hand, I feel like I'm really lucky that I was part of the first USA camps and teams, and now I'm part of one of the first NCAA teams as well."
"Long Beach State has such a great reputation in the indoor community. I'm just really excited to have the opportunity to build a matching one as part of the first sand volleyball team."