Lake and Sumter Style Magazine
3:35 pm EDT
Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The empire spikes back

Lake County has netted a prestigious volleyball tournament.

Alisha Hoffman spent years with her head buried in the sand.

The same can be said about her arms, legs, and feet. For her, sand offers a soft-landing pad for her favorite sport—beach volleyball.

A lifelong resident of Lake County, Alisha was a star player on Stetson University’s beach volleyball team in 2012. She continues playing competitively while also serving as coach of the Leesburg High School beach volleyball team and director of the Lake County Juniors Volleyball Club.

Alisha hopes to be among the many beach volleyball players who showcase their athletic prowess at the American Beach Tour Adult Championship, Sept. 9-10, at Hickory Point in Tavares. The event is the first and only USA Volleyball-sanctioned adult beach championship in 2017.

“Right now, I’m nursing a shoulder injury, but I hope I’m better by the time September rolls around because it will give me a chance to compete against some of the best players in the country,” says Alisha, a 2008 graduate of Leesburg High School. “If I cannot compete, I will definitely be there as a spectator.”

Steve Bishop, executive director of the Florida Region of USA Volleyball, has worked diligently to promote the event. He passed out 500 fliers during the USA Volleyball 2017 Open Championships held last May in Minneapolis and advertised in Dig, a popular national volleyball publication.

He hopes those efforts bring hordes of people to Lake County.

“It’s very exciting to have a state-of-the-art complex right here in our backyard that draws both high-caliber beach volleyball tournaments and world-class volleyball players,” he says. “When you have big tournaments like this one, people are coming from around the country and seeing our area for the first time. They can come here and make mini-vacations by taking in all the local attractions. And once they see everything our area offers, they will likely come back.”

He also encourages locals to attend so they can develop a greater appreciation for the sport. Competitors require a great deal of athletic ability, stamina, and strength because beach volleyball teams have only two players. That means they must cover the same size court that six indoor volleyball players do. And there are the added elements of sun, wind, rain, and humidity.

“Beach volleyball players must be versatile because they have to play every position,” Alisha says. “You are in control of the game at all times, and if you make a mistake you only have yourself to blame.”

For Alisha, seeing Lake County become a prime destination for sun, sand, and searing spikes is a point of pride. Featuring 21 professional courts, the $400,000 sand volleyball complex at Hickory Point is the largest in Florida and the third-largest in the United States. It has hosted prestigious tournaments such as the Florida USA Volleyball Beach Series, the first Florida high school beach volleyball state championships, and the ROX VB Series National Championships.

“It’s a beautiful facility,” she says. “People say, ‘How can you play beach volleyball in the middle of the state?’ Well, you can definitely play here in Lake County thanks to this awesome facility.”

The complex, which opened in 2014, was built at a time when the sport’s popularity was spiking upward. From 2007 to 2013, participation among girls ages 6 to 24 increased by 45 percent, according to data compiled by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. In addition, sand volleyball became an official National Collegiate Athletic Association sport in 2016, and each season concludes with a tournament to determine the champion.

As the sport’s profile continues growing, Steve wants to attract more national-level beach volleyball events like the American Beach Tour Adult Championship.

“It’s going to be a wonderful day of beach volleyball because of the high-caliber players,” he says. “Junior beach volleyball players can come and learn while watching adults play at a high level. And there are no fees for parking and entry. This is the next best thing to seeing beach volleyball at the Olympics.”

For more information about the American Beach Tour Adult Championship, call 352.742.0080.