Fifth-Year Beach Athletes: A Great Transition Opportunity

Currently, there are 334 NCAA D1 women’s indoor volleyball programs in the United States. Each graduate three to five student-athletes every spring, which means over 1300 high-level female volleyball players graduate every. single. year. Last year, only 66 (<5%) of these graduates continued playing at an elite indoor level in foreign leagues, leaving roughly 95% of these highly trained athletes without the next step to a professional career (USAV, 2018).



Although it’s shifting, the majority of our country’s top junior athletes are still choosing an indoor pathway for their college years. It makes sense, there are approximately:

  • 10 times as many indoor clubs to develop in, and
  • 10 times the D1 scholarship opportunities, and
  • 5 times the D1 roster positions available.

Of the 1200+ elite female athletes retiring from professional indoor volleyball annually, how many could have successful beach careers? How many are interested but have no clue where to start, are too intimidated to try, or don’t have the funds to make it a reality?

Cue the NCAA fifth-year transfer from indoor to beach. 

By NCAA rules, athletes have five calendar years of athletic eligibility to complete four seasons in one sport. This means that an athlete can complete their indoor career (four seasons) and still have a full year left to play beach (or a year and a half if they’re clever and enroll for the spring beach season following their final indoor season!). The fifth-year athlete can get their feet sandy in a supportive space without a serious investment. They will:

  • Gain access to elite beach coaches
  • Participate in an intense beach training regimen
  • Engage in a world-class strength and conditioning program 
  • Compete with and against future beach volleyball pros 

Currently, many of our top domestic women were indoor recruits turned NCAA beach players. A few of these early adopters were Karissa Cook (Hawaii), Betsi Flint (LMU), Brittany Howard (Pepperdine), Kelley Larsen (Pepperdine), Caitlin Ledoux (Long Beach), Kelly Reeves (UCLA), and Geena Urango (USC). None of them went into college anticipating playing college beach. All of them are now full-time beach professionals.

Athlete Best 2019 Domestic Finish Best 2019 International Finish
Karissa Cook Winner - AVP Austin Gold - Pan-American Games
Betsi Flint Winner - AVP Hermosa Beach Silver - FIVB 3* Canada, Australia
Brittany Howard Seventh - AVP Manhattan Beach Fifth - FIVB 2* China
Kelley Larsen Winner - AVP Seattle Silver - FIVB 4* Poland
Caitlin Ledoux Fifth - AVP Manhattan Beach Silver - NORCECA Mexico
Kelly Reeves Third - AVP Manhattan Beach Fifth - FIVB 3* Canada
Geena Urango Seventh - AVP New York Silver - NORCECA Mexico

2019 has been a big year for Stanford indoor (2009-2013) and Hawaii beach (2014) athlete Karissa Cook. In May she won her first AVP title in Austin and kept momentum into July as she headed internationally, winning gold at the Pan-American games in Peru.


Cook commented, “Having the option to continue my college experience as a student athlete was the ideal situation. I had the chance to compete at a high level in a sport that I love, while pursuing an advanced degree that I was interested in. Had I not played the year of beach volleyball at Hawaii, I know for certain that I would have retired from this sport far too early.”

Despite not having a domestic indoor professional league, riding the momentum of the rapid growth in beach volleyball provides an opportunity to continue the pursuit as a professional female athlete on the AVP Tour and possibly representing Team USA on the FIVB World Tour. The fifth-year concept may be the learning launchpad that keeps some of our most talented volleyball athletes competing in the sport. Training and competing in an NCAA beach program will give them a solid foundation and tools to transition to a professional beach career. 

There are benefits to NCAA programs, both indoor and beach, especially schools that recently added beach. For example, a beach coach may have scholarship dollars available for the upcoming year but needs that scholarship back the following year. If a coach doesn’t have an outlet for use for the year, scholarship dollars can get left on the table. A fifth-year athlete could utilize those, otherwise lost, scholarship dollars for the upcoming year. On the indoor side, should an athlete graduate and transfer in December following their final indoor season, the coach can utilize those scholarship dollars for another athlete or an incoming freshman that spring.

Share your thoughts on the fifth-year transfer opportunity below? Are you a collegiate indoor athlete or coach interested in learning more about the fifth-year of NCAA beach? We’d love to hear from you! Contact us for a free consultation today!

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