Rory Clarke chats to the UCD Volleyball club in a smashing Club Focus
Volleyball has really picked up speed in UCD since the turn of the year. I chatted with their Public Relations Officer, Alex Graves to discuss all things Blitz and bake sale, Student Cup and sandy smashes.
UCD’s top teams, men and women, compete in the Volleyball Association of Ireland Premier league. Competing in these illustrious league sees UCD travel the length and breadth of the country, from Munster to Galway. The UCD women’s team’s stellar year is reflected in the league standings, as they sit in 2nd place behind the Garda. At time of writing, they are also still in contention in the Association Cup, where they will travel to face rival Galway for the quarter finals over this weekend. The men’s team are also performing well, although a recent run of tough fixtures has seen them fall to 6th.
There are 2 other teams within the club; the men’s and women’s intermediate student teams, competing in the SSI (Student Sport Ireland League). The club caters for all abilities; hosting a beginner’s session every Friday & an open session afterward, for anyone to come, play and have fun. The teams and beginner sessions are open to all students & alumni; the club are quite active on social media and will only be too happy to give details to anyone interested.
During the first weekend of February UCD’s Women’s Volleyball team competed in the Student Cup in the University of East Anglia in Norwich, one of the highlights of the club’s year. This is a prestigious showcase for the best up-and-coming talent, with 16 of the best men’s and women’s teams invited to participate. The international esteem in which Irish Volleyball is held is clear – the Irish varsities champions are always invited and UCD’s women, as reigning Irish champions (as they have been 14 out of the last 15 years!), represented the country proudly. Off the back of winning the plate last year, UCD’s women more than held their own, losing only 2 games all weekend (to the teams that eventually finished 1st and 2nd) finishing 5th with a 2:0 victory over Cambridge (winning the final set 27-25 having been 22-16 down). Proud coach Patricia Somers, herself a celebrated player – holding the most medals overall, and caps of any female ‘middle’ in Ireland- said “To have the opportunity to play at this level is one thing but to be able to compete with the top teams is something else again. I could not have asked for more either on or off the court.” Many Olympians and former international players had their breakthroughs in the Student Cup, including Maria Bertelli, Ben Pipes, Lucy Boulton, Zara Dampney and Alex Porter.” Without a doubt many of our own will be looking to join these illustrious ranks in years to come.
The UCD team also hosted the 32nd UCD Blitz, the longest-running tournament in Ireland. There were a record number of 170 people in 26 teams competing in 122 matches over 3 days; with some all the way from the Czech Republic! The 3 days saw great competition – both friendly and competitive, which concluded with “Ball Smackers” defeating last year’s winner “Czech Our Boobs” in three tight sets in the final. The club also introduced a competition for the best team name which has resulted in some creative names (albeit complicating things for tournament referees). All team names were put up for a vote and “How I Set Your Mother” was by far the most popular, followed by “We’re setsy and we know it”. There was even a well-deserved bake sale to round off the weekend, much to the delight of everyone, particularly the onlooking crowds.
Many players split their time between traditional volleyball and the sandier variety, with many members sitting on the Beach Volleyball Commission board and competing internationally for both indoor and beach. UCD is committed towards expanding and developing the less-played branch of volleyball. 75% of the Beach Volleyball Commission of Ireland are UCD players, who are working with the college to explore a Beach Program, with Beach Court Facilities at UCD. This spring will see the first ever Irish Intervarsities Beach Volleyball Tournament, a 2-day competition which will take 1 women’s and 1 men’s entry from colleges around Ireland. UCD, as foremost advocates of the game, are understandably excited to see the hunger for this event and show that it is an established sport in Ireland, developing a reputation and growing steadily.
Three of the current members have been around for 17 years and now hold positions within the club such as head coach and treasurer (while still playing as alumni). Graves concludes our interview saying, “This club has a ton of heart and the people are fantastic”, and from chatting to Alex, one gets the impression that it is the people at the heart of this ‘family-like’ club that make it what it is.