TEMPE – Two coaches in its first three years suggested Grand Canyon University was looking for more stability when it hired Kristen Rohr in 2015 to oversee its beach volleyball program.
The Lopes found that in Rohr, who transformed GCU to national championship contender with a 148-71 record in eight seasons. She led the program to back-to-back NCAA tournaments and her teams won six straight meetings against in-state rival Arizona State.
The Sun Devils noticed and hired Rohr on June 2.
“The first thing I’m going to be looking for are people that are going to be able to add something positive to the culture that I have a vision of building,” she said, ”and athletes that are ready to work hard and want to be a part of a building program and take it to the next level.”
Rohr’s success at GCU coincided with the growth of the sport in the state. When she started there, only 17 Arizona high schools offered beach volleyball. The state has seen an 82.8% increase since then and boasts the third-highest beach volleyball participation in the country.
The growth of talent should provide a larger talent pool from which to recruit. Rohr has proven that once she lands players, she knows how to develop them. In her first season with the Lopes, she won more games (18) than the first three seasons of the program’s history combined (17).
Rohr’s words of taking the program to the next level were almost identical to the ones she used eight years ago after securing her first collegiate head coaching job. Her visions and aspirations for an urban Division I campus transformed into a validating truth.
Meanwhile, ASU went 11-13 last season, winning just 45.8% of its games, down 10% from the previous year. The journey to becoming a beach volleyball national championship contender will be a challenge.
Of the 16 teams in the NCAA Division I Beach Volleyball National Tournament, four were from the Pac-12, including USC and UCLA, who faced off in the national championship final.
With every challenge comes opportunity. The Sun Devils host the 2024 Pac-12 Beach Championship, giving them homecourt advantage in one of the biggest conference tournaments the sport offers.
“We have probably the strongest conference in the country,” Rohr said. “So to be able to come out and see that high level of competition right in their backyard is a really exciting opportunity for Tempe and surrounding areas.”
She knows the rebuild will mostly take place in courts outside of the ones in Tempe, but her recruiting philosophy is simple: Recruit quality people, build them as beach volleyball athletes and help them grow.
“One of the most important things to me is bringing in good humans,” she said. “My big thing is building them as student-athletes, not just as athletes. My goal is to make them the best beach volleyball players they can be, but also to develop them as people, and to get them ready for whatever they’re planning to do … whether that’s going to play professional beach volleyball, whether that’s planning on going out into the workforce, and just helping them accomplish those goals.”
Molly Turner, a two-time All-American, was entering her sophomore season when Rohr was hired to coach the Lopes. Before she played at GCU, she was cut from the Neuqua Valley High School indoor volleyball team in Naperville, Illinois, before turning to beach volleyball.
Turner was a walk-on her freshman year under then-coach Jose Lugo. She played at No. 2 doubles throughout the season and finished with a 5-9 record.
She had gotten to know Lugo and was nervous that her spot on the roster was expendable since she wasn’t on scholarship.
“I got my bearings with this coach, and then the summer ended and we got a message that was like: ‘Hey, you guys are getting a new coach,’” Turner said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, God, here we go again. I can get cut. I’m one of the people that probably is on the list of getting cut.’ And because I wasn’t getting any money, I was just kind of a body at that point. I was potentially taking up space.
Her fears disappeared after the first meeting between the two. As she knows how to do best, Rohr was able to ease Turner’s uncertainty about not having a roster spot for the upcoming season.
“I’m not here to ruin this team, I’m not here to hurt the culture you’ve already made, I want to make it better. I just need to get to know you guys,” Turner recalled her saying in one of their first meetings.
Their next three years together would one of accomplishments and lasting memories.
Turner went 40-11 the next two years, including a 22-3 junior season that saw her named as an American Volleyball Coaches Association Beach Volleyball All-American.
She moved to California days after graduating from Grand Canyon in 2018 to pursue her dream of becoming a professional volleyball player. Soon thereafter, she joined the AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals), playing in multiple main draw and semifinal matches.
The bond between the two is stronger than ever, even after Turner’s graduation five years ago. Rohr coached her in several professional tournaments over the years. She still gives her advice on how to how to improve her game, and Rohr is even invited to Turner’s upcoming wedding in September.
Wins and losses in the sand are the ultimate reflectors of job performance in beach volleyball. However, Rohr hopes the relationships she builds, grows and sustains leave an everlasting mark on the beneficiaries of her coaching career.
“I look up to her in so many ways,” Turner said. “I know I’m from GCU. But I’ve told everyone I’m an ASU fan now because of her.
“I know that this program in the next two years is going to get into the top 10 because of her because she just doesn’t stop.”