Beach volleyball team welcomes new head coach

Emma Tanner, Managing Editor

On Dec. 28, 2022, UNA Athletics announced they had hired Kaleb VanDePerre as the new beach volleyball head coach. Thais Yancey previously served as the head coach and remains on staff.

VanDePerre previously was beach volleyball head coach at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. According to UNA Athletic Director Dr. Josh Looney, the hiring of VanDePerre was instrumental in separating beach volleyball and indoor volleyball. 

VanDePerre brought the LU Flames to victory against a Division I team for the first time in 2021. He was also the director of marketing and promotions for club sports, as well serving as the men’s volleyball head coach for four seasons. The team was nationally ranked no. 1 during his tenure. 

Liberty University was VanDePerre’s alma mater. He obtained a bachelors of science in psychology and a masters of science in sports management. 

Originally from Michigan, he had little interest in volleyball at all. He played basketball throughout his schooling. 

“I’m a fan of basketball,” said VanDePerre. “I was good because I was a mentally aware athlete, way more than an athlete. Every year I would win the ‘Most Likely to be a Coach’ award, which was usually ‘you’re not actually good, but you know the game well.’ My whole life I thought I was going to coach basketball one day.”

In his physical education classes, he would usually play volleyball. He took a volleyball class in college and joined the club team. He was further introduced to beach volleyball when he transferred from Central Michigan University to Liberty.

Competivity was a big part of his personal progress in beach volleyball. It was a stark contrast from his attitude toward basketball. 

“I remember one day thinking, ‘Even if it’s rainy and cold, I still like coming to play volleyball,’ and I never would have said that about other sports,” VanDePerre said. “If I didn’t feel good, basketball practice was miserable. For volleyball, if I had to miss I was disappointed. I wanted to be [on the court] all the time.”

His love and knowledge of volleyball drew him toward coaching the sport. He started coaching club teams. As his skill grew, he began receiving offers for higher-level coaching jobs. 

“I tell the girls to find ways to fail,” VanDePerre said. “As a coach it’s the same thing. Just immerse yourself in it and be present and learn. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re learning.” 

VanDePerre’s decision to move to Florence was an easy one. After touring campus, he and his wife had decided to join the UNA family. He formally arrived on Jan. 9. His wife and two children are set to arrive soon.

“The people here feel like a family,” VanDePerre said. “We love the parks. We love the outdoors. Campus is incredible. We were here for a day and both my wife and I were like, ‘I guess we’re moving to Alabama.’”

The team is already in the process of recruiting. With beach volleyball as a fully separate program now, VanDePerre wants to build the roster. By the end of February, about ten to 15 girls will have visited the campus solely for the beach volleyball program. 

“[The players] did a lot of things self-led,” he said. “Now, I’m able to fight some battles for them, talk to administration, plan out some ways we can increase fundraising, increase engagement, increase awareness of our sport, get people out to the games and then recruiting. I feel like UNA beach volleyball is this hidden gem. We’re good. We’re in a good conference. We have great facilities, but maybe a lot of kids don’t even know there’s a program.”

Beach volleyball is played two-on-two, rather than in teams. Their competition season runs from late February to late April. Championships are held in early May. There are 62 beach volleyball teams in Division I, five which are in the Atlantic Sun conference. 

Players are split into pairings, then ranked from one to five. Each no. 1 spot plays each other, each no. 2 spot plays each other and so on. The team wins if they win three out of five spots. UNA’s team plays about 30 to 36 matches in a season.

Although he arrived in-season, VanDePerre has had a very small adjustment period. Since Yancey has been running the program, the girls on the team are well-equipped. VanDePerre is following their lead. 

“I told the girls I feel like I’m jumping in on their road trip halfway through,” VanDePerre said. “I’ll be able to offer what I can offer, but I don’t want to take [them] in another direction. They’ve set their goals, so I’ve come in with ‘let’s add and make changes as we go,’ but I don’t need to mess up everything that they’ve been doing well. If I would have started in the first semester, I would have had so much time to plan and prepare and instead it’s like, ‘oh shoot, we travel in a month, we’ve got to book stuff, we’ve got to find hotels, we’ve got to communicate with coaches.’ We’re in the sand and weight room 20 hours a week.”

Despite the constant hurry to get things into motion, VanDePerre enjoys getting to work with the team in such a hands-on way.

“Some days are stressful, but it’s such a fun stress,” he said. “I love coming in early, staying late and building that kind of community with the girls.”

Community is extremely important to VanDePerre. UNA’s campus and Florence as a whole seem to be a perfect example of community for him. He looks forward to cultivating his young family in the area. Kilby Laboratory School’s proximity to campus eases his mind, especially since his children are approaching school age.

“Community increases the potential for us to be our best,” he said. “We have people to celebrate with. We have people to mourn with. We have people to push us out of our comfort zone. In coaching — whether that is recruiting community or meeting families and all these potential student athletes — we build those relationships that hopefully last for our lives. I think that aspect of [coaching] is just pursuing our best versions. It’s awesome to see people grow in that way.”

He wants to be able to help people — particularly his athletes — build lifelong relationships and grow as people. That is one of the fundamentals of coaching for him.