Under coach Derek Olson, UW beach volleyball is on the rise

In just two seasons, head coach Derek Olson has taken the Husky beach volleyball program to new heights. In 2023, the Huskies were ranked  No. 12 in the nation, they had their first 20-win season, and seniors Chloe Loreen and Natalie Robinson became the first Huskies ever named AVCA Beach Volleyball Americans. The former beach volleyball touring pro has set his sights even higher.

How did you get interested in volleyball?

I grew up in Eugene with a dad who played and coached volleyball. I was that annoying kid who interrupted his practices.

How did you get involved with beach volleyball?

I started playing at 19 on an indoor club team in Oregon. But I knew that as soon as I graduated, I was heading south to San Diego for the lifestyle, the sunshine and the challenges of having to be an all-around athlete in a physically demanding sport.

What was it like playing professionally?

Surreal. Really stressful, really rewarding, but I got to visit a lot of places around the world.

How did you become a coach?

I started coaching high school athletes and found myself focusing more on developing them than my own game. That’s when it dawned on me that coaching was becoming my passion.

You coached at Cal and you coached the Moroccan National team. Tell us about it.

Morocco was quite the experience—a five-week stint leading up to the most important tournament of the year. It was the team’s shot to qualify for the Olympics.

What’s it like being the coach at UW?

Very few schools know how to balance academics and athletics to give student-athletes the best possible experience. Washington really supports its student-athletes. And the sport itself is exploding. One of the challenges in recruiting and playing, of course, is the weather. It will take patience and consistency to make beach volleyball more prominent at the UW, it won’t happen overnight. And it will take a lot of hard work. We need to create a strong culture for support.

Where does the team play its matches?

Alki Beach. And we practice at Golden Gardens and sometimes on two courts on campus. There is a home-court advantage in beach volleyball, mainly depending on the different sand depths and the wind. Arizona State has deep sand. At Alki, the sand is shallow, and the weather is all over the place. But we draw big crowds if it isn’t raining or hailing.

Indoor volleyball, beach volleyball. What’s the difference?

On the beach, players need all of the skills. Indoors, players have very specific skills for their roles. Middle blockers, for instance, might have a real challenge switching to beach ball. And it can take a while for a pair in beach ball to work great together.

What’s the outlook for next season?

We have 11 new student-athletes. We do return a couple of starters, but we have many new freshmen. In the first two years, we recruited a lot of transfer students but now we were able to bring in freshmen so we can really build the program. The Pac-12 is  stronger than ever and is the toughest conference in the country. (Note: his interview took place before it was announced that the Huskies would be joining the Big Ten in 2024.)