Sand, Sun and Serves

Volleyball association helps players dig in the sand.
Above from left: Katy Kraemer, Emma O'Connell, Hannah Beatty and Emma Martinson

For the past two summers, Saturday mornings at Riley Lake Park in Eden Prairie have been host to teams playing in the sand.

Lawn chairs unfold next to coolers, spectators shout words of encouragement and the beach volleyball courts spring to life with the friendly competition of the players. They are part of the Beach Volleyball program of the Eden Prairie Volleyball Association, a nonprofit program founded by volleyball parents Cheryl O’Connell and Kris Beatty.

O’Connell and Beatty started the program in 2016. “We saw a need for beach volleyball in our community,” O’Connell says. Both O’Connell and Beatty have daughters who play court volleyball at the high school level, and the two parents served up the program as a way for their girls, and others in the community, to improve their athletic skills. “They say it’s a great cross-training program to get stronger,” O’Connell says.  

During the summer session, the players practice twice every week on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 9–11 a.m. at Riley Lake Park—which itself hosts the playful waters of Riley Lake and just the right amount of trees for shade seekers. “On Saturdays, we have Power Plays,” O’Connell says. These Power Plays are two-on-two games played between members of the program, competing to improve their sand skills.

Beatty’s daughter, Hannah Beatty, has played in the beach volleyball program since its launch. “I like playing the tournaments on Saturdays,” Hannah says. “You get to hang out with your friends and play volleyball at the same time.” Many of the players ride their bikes to the Saturday games and stay after the competitions to swim in Riley Lake, giving athletes a chance to cool down and ease their muscles.

Like many other players, the program has helped Hannah improve her skills on hard courts. “In the sand, it’s a lot harder to move,” she says, “so when you get back to the court, you’re stronger.” Hannah has been playing volleyball since sixth grade, and she plans to continue. “I really like playing,” she says. “You make a lot of friends and stay in shape.”

The program is open to both Eden Prairie residents and community members—girls in grades 7–12, who hope to improve their skills—and there are no tryouts. Registration opens for everyone in April, with a limit of 44 players. “We want to build on what we had,” says president of the Eden Prairie Volleyball Association Rusty Ekness on the future of the program. “We want to keep the girls on the court and give them more touches of the ball.” Ekness’ 12-year-old daughter was a part of the program’s 2017 season, and Ekness enjoyed watching the games. “I come from a parent perspective, and my daughter loved it,” he says. “She’s excited to keep going.”   
 
While the program aims to improve players' skills, Beatty says the program has a far bigger importance to the community. “Seeing all of the families come together on a Saturday morning; they bring their coolers, they bring their young kids to play at the park," she says.
 
“It’s a chance to enjoy one of the beautiful parks in our community,” O’Connell says.

Find other beach volleyball venues at parks across the Southwest Metro.
Eden Prairie: Rustic Hills Park, Staring Lake Park, Nesbitt Preserve Park, Crestwood Park, Homeward Hills Park, Round Lake Park and Riley Lake Park.
Chanhassen: Lake Ann Park, Lake Susan Park and Chanhassen Hills Park.
Chaska: Lion’s Park.

Register online at epvolleyball.com. Beach program runs for six weeks over the summer. June–August. Price: TBD.  
Riley Lake Park in Eden Prairie also offers adult leagues for both men and women. Visit edenprairie.org for details.