Serve, set, pass, attack!

The UCD Volleyball team beat Amber Coast 3-2 last Saturday to book their spot in the Association Cup final. But what is this game all about? Ryan Mackenzie reportsVolleyball, first played in Holyoke, Massachusetts, way back in 1895, is about as simple as a game gets. Both sides have six players, including one elite defender called the Libero – who usually wears a different colour jersey – and play with a white ball inside a small court with very few lines and restrictions. A net that hangs nearly twelve feet in the air and spans across the court divides them. Each team has three touches of the ball to return it to their opponents and points are awarded when a team can’t return it for whatever reason. That’s about it. The game involves intense teamwork. Unable to stop the ball and regroup, players are forced to shout at each other and hope for the best when trying to return the ball, making their seemingly organised formations all the more impressive. As it turns out, UCD are quite good at this. Few on campus would know of the success this team achieved last Saturday, but even fewer would believe that the University boasts one of the biggest clubs in the country with over 100 players competing at a top level. The Students beat Amber Coast to reach the Association Cup final in a close and gripping contest, for the most part. In all honesty, watching volleyball can become somewhat tedious. As much fun as it looks to play, and it really does, its fair to say that once you’ve seen one or two passages of play, you’ve seen a thousand. There are very few variations of play. Unlike sports such as soccer and rugby, volleyball offers little to spectators in terms of unpredictability and diversification, as there are few components to this simple game. The basic concept of returning a ball to the other team in three touches without stopping play doesn’t exactly make for much of a spectator sport. However, from a player’s perspective, this seemingly simple game presents no easy task. The game can pick up into a relatively fast pace. Defending players must be on full alert to deal with every eventuality, as the opposing team run dummy routes and decoy jumpers to put their opponents off guard. Defending teams respond by racing around like a flock of bees, picking off the ball in what would appear to be random movements to the average bystander but what are in fact calculated and methodical defensive manoeuvres. Careful defensive placement is paramount to any teams success.The Libero, who generally holds the fort on defence, can never lose track of the balls flight. He or she never plays at the net, providing a position for the vertically challenged in a game which requires a lot of height, and generally stays perpendicular to the ball in anticipation of a spike. The spike is the blue ribbon of volleyball, the flagship move, and the crescendo to any passage of play. It involves an attacker rising above the net and slamming the ball to the opposing teams floor, winning the point with dramatic style. They invariably elicit a rapturous response from the team, which is a common sight in volleyball. Indeed, the obligatory high-fives and chest-pumps, which follow every winning point, are as much a part of the sport as the ball itself. That said, in a game of four sets – five if needed – where it takes thirty points to win a set, these demonstrations of joy and team camaraderie can seem rather contrived at times. While no doubt a fringe sport in UCD, volleyball is actually a major sport worldwide. It’s been a feature of the Olympic games since 1964 – although the introduction of Trampolining has somewhat cheapened the honour – and in 1992 beach volleyball was inducted into the games.Brazil are currently ranked number one in both the men’s and women’s game, with the men winning the recent World Championships in Italy last year. Unfortunately, Ireland don’t feature on the main stage, making a gold medal in London next year quite unlikely.That’s not to say that the domestic game is substandard. UCD’s achievement in reaching the Association Cup final is terrific. Made up of students, staff and alumni, the team boasts internationals from home and abroad, and play the sport at a high standard.Talking to the team after the game, they describe how the cup is their season objective each year. Rather than competing for glory in the league, they state that: “We always play our best team in the cup.” This tactic is evident from the Students relatively poor league position, lying in sixth place and 17 points off leaders Munster Thunder. Thus, a victory for UCD in the final on May 7th is crucial.