EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – In early January of 2022, UTEP Athletics announced that it would be adding beach volleyball as its official Division I sport. Since then, the team has prepared for its start in 2023 to join the ranks of the fastest growing sports in the nation.
Indoor volleyball will soon be closing its season as they prepare for one of their last regular season games before heading off to the Conference USA tournament in Kentucky. Soon after that, the team will be trading the hardwood court for one on sand.
The beach volleyball team now has eight new recruits on its roster that the indoor team will be joining at the end of the year along with head coach Ben Wallis. The team does have a new face as assistant head coach, Daniel Foo, who is bringing his background in the sport to El Paso.
Previously, Foo had a similar task at the University of New Mexico and has brought that experience of creating a team from scratch to the Borderland.
“I’ve started a program before, so I know that it’s a little hard at the beginning and it’s challenging and we’re going to make the schedule pretty difficult to start off and really challenge these girls to achieve something early on but with the competition comes better volleyball,” Foo said.
Part of building a team means recruiting and from the beginning Foo knew he wanted to create a platform for young women in El Paso who had not gotten a chance previously to play at the collegiate level. One of those players is Mia Ruiz, an El Paso native who transferred over from Sul Ross State University.
Ruiz reached out to Wallis realizing her passion for the sport never waivered. After her tryout, she became an official member of the team and now looks to inspire other players who had been previously overlooked due to their shorter stature.
“Beach is a new thing in college collegiate sports so it will allow shorter players like myself (to play). You can go out and play beach, so I hope it motivates you to try it even though it’s different from indoor,” Ruiz said.
UTEP has also been looking overseas for new players and found their match with Latvia native Krista Paegle. The European followed in her mother’s footsteps at the age of 15 playing beach volleyball professionally for many years.
She now has that passion, along with brining her lifetime experience of the sport to El Paso.
“I really didn’t know about my future and what I want to do so I thought this is a great opportunity for me to go across the ocean and just be somewhere else and get this experience.”
This new experience will be a learning curve for everyone but the girls are excited to get the season started and work on being better every day as a team. While no one knows what to expect come the start of the season in February, they will work on being the best they can be while growing the sport right here in El Paso.
“That’s a big thing for me is to build the beach volleyball community here. It’s not very big right now and I want to make sure that El Paso and west Texas has a lot more beach volleyball and have it known as a place to find beach volleyball recruits,” Foo said.