Sixth Man: Volleyball


The "jump up and block the ball" move is just one of many possible types of "volleys"

The “jump up and block the ball” move is just one of many possible types of “volleys” at a volleyball player’s disposal

This column used to exist regularly, we swear. You can find the archives here. This year, it spontaneously rises from the dead, like Neo amidst a hailstorm of bullets from Mr. Smith. Welcome back to Sixth Man. 

Here is the problem with going to a Brown sports event: you feel like you don’t fit in. At last night’s volleyball game, the surprisingly large crowd was composed of the following members: me, the weird guy sitting behind me definitely reading my notes over my shoulder the whole fucking game, 50 or so athletes, a bored-looking 9-year-old with an iPod, and a smattering of players’ parents bickering over how to pronounce various other players’ names. This was not the ideal atmosphere to take in my first-ever Brown volleyball game, alone, but I suppose that’s what you get when you don’t have many friends and agree to cover Brown sports.

I showed up five minutes late, which, to my dismay, was just in time for the national anthem. This isn’t an ultra-relevant concern, but why do we bother with the national anthem before sports games if it’s a generic taped CD version? I say it’s live or bust. You could even bring out one of those classically trained 11-year-olds to stumble through a botched rendition who makes it even more uncomfortable for the crowd than for her. That’s what we go to sports games for, right?

Anyway, I digress. Let’s talk volleyball. Brown was off to an 0-4 start going into Tuesday’s game, which sounded a whole lot worse until I found out that Tuesday’s opponent, Providence College, was 0-7 with straight-set losses to possibly fictional colleges Gardner-Webb and Southern Utah. They were not better than expected, either. I’ll save you the suspense–Bruno picked up its first win of the year in consecutive sets, 25-21, 25-22, 25-18.!”But what do all these numbers mean???” I hear you probably (not) asking. Good question. Volleyball matches are played in intervals of 25-point sets; win three sets, and you win the match. (I think there’s something special about the fifth set, if it comes to that, but this one didn’t go that long, so who cares.)

Let’s go through a play-by-play of your average volleyball point. We start off with a girl who serves the ball from behind the back line thingy. Every so often a player seems especially good at serving, but most of them just kind of chuck it in there for the other team to return. The first returner bumps the ball in an underhanded move known as a “dig” (I think, don’t hold me accountable for any of this), then the next girl pushes it high in the air in a move known as a “set,” and finally, a particularly tall girl hits it hard and downward over the net in a move known as a “spike.” Spikes are often decisive: if they hit the ground inside the boundaries, the point goes to the spiking team, and if they hit outside the boundaries, the point goes to the other team. Sometimes, though, the ball is once again dug out, and the returning team goes through the whole dig-set-spike routine as well, and the two teams rinse and repeat until one of them fucks up. Each side is limited to three hits, although every so often they deflect the spike when they jump up and try to block it, which apparently doesn’t count as a real hit. So sometimes they get four.

I know my description makes volleyball sound boring and repetitive, and I guess it is kind of repetitive, but I was pleasantly surprised at how not boring it was. In fact, if I had to rate Brown volleyball’s entertainment value, I’d put it somewhere between Brown basketball (excellent) and Brown football (solid). If any one of my friends was the sort of person who could be talked into going to a volleyball game, I think I’d go to another.

That’s not to say there aren’t several areas for growth in the volleyball experience. First of all, I know this is a minor point, but the shoes are really ugly. They look like athletic shoes that I had when I was eight and only wore shiny basketball shorts, sports-team t-shirts (actually, I still dress like that), and dumb cross-trainer shoes with embossed plastic color patterns. Sorry, that was a horrible description. But the shoes are not great; here’s a picture to prove it.

Second of all, the referees could use some improvement. The main referee is a sort of “king of the castle” who gets to stand on a giant ladder thing on one side of the net and make basic hand gestures indicating which team wins the point. His main assistant stands across on the other side, but she doesn’t get a ladder thing. The especially weird part, though, is that the assistant-assistant referees are literally college-aged kids who look like they’ve never played volleyball before and whose job is to dress in white and hold up a flag when the ball goes out of bounds on their side. It’s fairly comical. One flag boy looked like he kind of skimped on the dress code, going with decidedly-not-white khaki shorts and sneakers.

I also have to pick a nit with the fact that some nice Brown Athletics employee has to go to the trouble of setting out like 15 chairs for each team that both teams’ players steadfastly refuse to sit on. Instead they stand in a more-or-less single-file line that begins at the last chair. I don’t know exactly why this is SOP for volleyball players, but I think it involves the complicated substitution and rotation patterns which I tried unsuccessfully to understand. The gist seems to be that everyone, even the best players, have to come out after they serve… unless they’re the “libero,” which is the girl in charge of the digging element of play and of whom each team only seems to have one. (The libero, in an endlessly confusing rule, has to wear a different-colored jersey, which–at least in the case of the Brown vs. PC game–resulted in each team’s libero wearing the other team’s non-libero color.)

In any case, there are far worse ways to pass a couple hours (almost exactly a half-hour per set, so it depends if the match lasts three, four, or five of them) than to go to a Brown volleyball game. There’s a lot of enthusiasm, mostly from the parents–when they take a break from practicing pronunciation of the especially tricky names–and from the players, who get super excited after every point and every so often pick completely random points to get especially super excited about. I feel like I should at least mention one or two of them here, so let’s go ahead and say that Payton Smith ’17 and Sarah Lucenti ’17 played well because the recap says so and their faces look familiar from the game.

As for this season’s outlook, Brown has been decent in years past, including a 12-13 overall, 8-6 Ivy record last year, and maybe 2014 is the year. Who knows!? You will, after you check out the team’s next home games this weekend on Friday at 7 p.m. and on Saturday at 3:30 and 7 p.m. as part of the Brown Invitational. Sixth Man will see you there.

Image via.

1 Comment

  1. Volleyball Fan

    “…. The gist seems to be that everyone, even the best players, have to come out after they serve… unless they’re the “libero,” …”

    If you have players who are complete players and who can play defense (dig) and hit, they don’t come out. On some of the best teams in the country, the best hitters are better diggers than the libero who specializes in defense obviously.

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