Queens of the court
When the Rugby women’s sand volleyball league began play 20 years ago, Mary Ann Jaeger had no idea how long it would last, or how successful it would become.
Today, the summer activity is at an all-time high for participants and it has watched its home – the Rugby Recreation Complex – grow from one to three courts.
“It is surprising how this league continued to get a good number of teams and players each summer,’ said Jaeger, who serves as one of the league coordinators.
This year’s league features 17 teams and 95 participants. “Some teams just have four players while other have more,’ she said.
Matches are played on Tuesday evenings from late May to early August. The season wraps up in early August with the league tournament.
Sand volleyball is a great form of exercise as well as a much-needed stress reliever from life’s daily challenges.
Many of the participants played volleyball in junior and senior high school, but some picked up the sport at an older age.
“You learn a lot just by watching,’ said Jaeger. “It doesn’t take long for someone to fit right in and play well.”
Sandy Hageness, one of the coordinators, added the socializing is an important element, enabling the women to get together to visit, and it’s an activity where they can bring their children who can play nearby.
Of course, the competitive side does come out, and while winning isn’t necessarily everything, playing for a league title drives some players.
However, most of the teams are out to have fun.
“It is competitive, but yet if focuses on the fun,’ said Bonnie Kuehnemund, who has played for years.
Mindy Stier, who has participated for three years now looks forward to it every week. “I love the sport and the nights I most enjoy are when we are in a competitive match,’ Stier said.
She’s part of a team that has captured the past two league titles, but winning isn’t the only objective. “Just the opportunity to keep playing this sport is great.”
Matches last about 45 minutes, so it doesn’t take up the entire evening and with all the local teams, there is no traveling.
“And there is no need to practice,’ quipped Hageness. “Just show up and have fun.”
In 1991, resident Tom Solberg came up with the idea of putting in a sand court at the recreation complex, Hageness recalls. From there, talk of establishing a women’s league started and that spring 16 teams signed up.
Participation in the women’s league waned a bit in the early and mid-1990s with the number of teams averaging 10. However, a resurgence began in the late 1990s.
Part of that reason coincided with the addition of a second court, which enabled two matches to be played at the same time and allowing matches to finish before dark and before the mosquitos became too thick.
The league has averaged 14 teams since 1998 and has included teams driving over from neighboring Towner.
Over the years some of the teams featured mothers and daughters playing side by side and as the years have passed, some of those children who grew up watching their mothers play are now old enough to play. Girls entering their senior year of high school are allowed to play, however, there are few teens who take part, Jaeger said.
Earlier this summer, a third sand court was added which enabled the league to continue once a week games and ensure matches to finish at a reasonable hour.
Hageness said Rugby Recreation Coordinator Curry Mund has been very helpful in keeping the courts ready for play and working with the coordinators to add new features.
Over the years a nearby picnic shelter was constructed and funded in part with participation fees. Eventually, electricity was also installed. Trees have also been planted around the sand courts and light poles added.
In 1994, a men’s league was offered, but just four teams took part that summer and it folded after the one season.
A high school girls league was also tried in 1999, but lack of participation forced it to be dropped.
So over the years the court belonged only to the women, and there appears to be no let up.
“It’s a great thing for our community and something many look forward to every summer,’ Jaeger said.
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