Beth Haglin has been busy lately after accepting another head coach position at Flagstaff High School, but despite her hectic schedule, she has found her new role is as fun as a day at the beach.
Haglin was at the helm for her first Flagstaff Eagles beach volleyball match on Thursday, getting more of a feel for the sport that has continued to gain popularity across the state.
“It has just been so much different than court -- it’s relaxing, it’s not stressful like the court is," said Haglin, the longtime Eagles varsity indoor volleyball coach. "You know, you are just out there, and you can’t coach, literally, during the match. You watch the match, you cheer them on and you can suggest that they call a timeout but can’t call a timeout yourself, the girls do it all. During timeouts you can talk to them, but during the match you can’t give instructions at all.”
It's been a pleasant experience for a coach who is used to pacing the sidelines, shouting plays and guiding substitutions. And it's a good thing beach volleyball has a laid-back feel to it, because the players and Haglin commit a lot of time to indoor club volleyball this time of year.
“What I have found is you have to juggle your practices around their club practice because you don’t want to overtrain them," Haglin said. "But then also, your better volleyball players don't come out for sand because they want to focus on club and don’t want to miss that much school. That’s the biggest struggle.”
Having a roster full of experienced players, both on beach and court, has has helped Haglin make the adjustment to sand. She's also received a lot of help from other coaches, including Josh Elliott, who is affiliated with the Northern Arizona University beach club team and works as the JV indoor coach at Northland Prep Academy.
Returning to the program, which is starting up just its third year of existence, are juniors Brooklyn Quick, Hutton Hagerman and Jasmine Berry, who have all played since their freshman year. Senior Theresa Palacios is also returning for a third year, and she is joined as an upperclassmen in Sydney Aldridge, who transferred to Flagstaff from Gilbert High.
“My philosophy in coaching is you can continue to learn from your players and learn something new every year, because I don’t want to become that coach who gets stagnant," said Haglin, who added that the seasoned sand players have been providing her with tips about the game while helping the younger players get the grasp of the sport's different rules and strategies.
The Eagles won their season opener, 5-0, over the Willow Canyon Wildcats. In fact, only one of Flagstaff's courts dropped a set during the match, showing that the initial pairings could be set for success.
Coaches have connected with Haglin, who is the third coach in as many years for the Flagstaff beach program. The Sandra Day O'Connor Eagles head coach helped Haglin figure out a way to construct her five courts, and the Willow Canyon coach was giving Haglin pointers during the opener.
“It was really helpful talking to other coaches and asking them about what they do. It’s a really neat camaraderie in the volleyball community and there is a great beach community too, so it’s nice," Haglin said.
Haglin was able to use a mix of past pairings and in-house competition to put players together so far this season.
“You can figure out through competing who plays best together, who wins the most together. From my standpoint, it was about who they are most comfortable with and we also did some round-robin tournaments, switching up who they played with and who they played against and who seemed to win the most together is how I went with it," Haglin said.
Despite the program finding it hard to keep continuity in coaching, the team has been competitive since the start. In its inaugural year, when Nick Bowling was at the helm, the team went 5-4-1. Last season, the Eagles finished up at 5-7 overall and 4-5 in section play under the guidance of Mahmoud Elnounw. Flagstaff was unable to beat crosstown rival Coconino in either season, but took each match to a decisive fifth set.
Coconino High, in fact, will be the location for most of Flagstaff's home matches. On April 4, the Eagles will play at Flagstaff Athletic Center East, which has been the home of Flagstaff and Coconino in past years.
In addition to Coconino helping to provide its brand-new sand courts, Haglin got administrative help at Flagstaff in order to make taking on the coaching role work. Flagstaff athletic director Jeannine Brandel made sure to create a schedule that did not interfere with the indoor club responsibilities Haglin and her players have.
So when Brandel approached Haglin with the idea, it was as easy as "Why not?"
“She was able to work some stuff out and make it so I can do it, and then it was just me saying, ‘Yea, I can do it,'" Haglin said.
Competing in Division I this season, the Eagles pick the season back up Wednesday against Marcos de Niza Padres for a 4 p.m match at Kiwanis Park in Tempe. Flagstaff's first home match is March 26.