On the white sand of Spa Beach, with the quarterfinal matches of the AVP St. Petersburg Open playing in the stadium court behind them, five teenagers are participating in a free clinic conducted by Pepperdine University sand volleyball assistant coach Marcio Sicoli.
Sicoli, who also doubles as the coach for three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, throws a ball toward a player at the head of the line and shouts instructions. The player digs the ball before it hits the sand, races up toward the net where Sicoli tosses another ball into the air for the player to set, then spikes a third.
Kat Bailey sits watching with a group of parents on a concrete wall next to the court.
Brooke, her daughter and a rising junior at Sickles High School, is a setter for the Gryphons' indoor volleyball team but also trains at Bevolley Academy in St. Petersburg to learn how to play sand volleyball. Sicoli is providing the free tutorial on behalf of Bevolley Academy, which provides coaching and instruction to juniors and pros exclusively for sand volleyball.
The improvement in Brooke's game since starting at Bevolley Academy is immediately noticeable to Kat Bailey.
"She can jump higher, she's stronger and she has more ball control, which is important for everything," Kat Bailey said.
Raquel Ferreira, co-founder and director of Bevolley Academy, grew up playing volleyball in Brazil and was good enough to make the Brazilian junior national team at age 15. After a collegiate career in California, Ferreira joined the AVP Tour, earning Rookie of the Year honors in 2009. When the tour folded at the end of the 2010 season, Ferreira competed in Europe and Brazil.
"I saw a lot of different methodology with training I had never experienced in volleyball," Ferreira said. "I was planning on coming back to the U.S. when the AVP was re-established. My thought was to use the systems I had learned to get myself ready to train as well as training juniors in the same style."
After the AVP Tour resumed in late 2011, Ferreira moved to St. Petersburg to play and teach.
"I decided to come to Florida because, junior-wise, Florida was the biggest state holding sand volleyball tournaments, but there was a huge need for training in Florida," she said.
Ferreira, along with her business partner Paula Roca, also a former AVP player, started Bevolley Academy to fill that void. Initially a training ground for pros, the academy added junior instruction in May 2013, a result of the NCAA's approval of sand volleyball as an emerging sport for women in 2009 and more than 40 schools sponsoring teams in 2014.
"Our goal since the beginning is to bring beach volleyball to this coast of the U.S.," said Ferreira, who competed at last weekend's AVP St. Petersburg Open with partner Kaitlin Nielsen; they went 1-2. "Before, everything is in California, all the players are in California, the kids training have to go to California. There are amazing players on the East Coast. We want to make St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay area a powerhouse for beach volleyball."
Bevolley Academy continues to train pros as well. Megan Wallin, a five-year veteran of the AVP Tour who runs her own junior beach volleyball club, SpikeKey Beach, drives two to three times a week from her home in Sarasota to train at Bevolley Academy.
"It's more than just a beach volleyball training center," Wallin said. "It's a community. We're a family."
As she walks off the sand after her lesson, Brooke Bailey beams. Her time at Bevolley Academy has produced a tough decision: stick with the indoor game she grew up playing or pursue a career on the beach. Right now, she's on the fence. Although she can continue to play both, earning a college scholarship is easier when specializing in one or the other.
"(Brooke) recently said, 'Any time I'm at Bevolley, it makes me happy,' " Kat Bailey said. "She loves the coaches. They're so supportive and always positive. She loves it."