There's nothing I enjoy more than setting up a six-pack.
No, I don't mean pouring six 12-ounce cans of Coors Light into some beer mugs. I'm underage, after all. Come on. You know better than that.
Rather, I'm talking about a shoot set to the 6'2" outside hitter, who hammers the ball through a gap in the double-block, catching an unsuspecting member of the backrow right in the chest and knocking him flat onto the hardwood.
That, is the real six-pack.
I should clarify, because it's very likely that you still have no idea what the heck I'm talking about. That's because volleyball has never catered to the mainstream audience, especially here on the East Coast. The only people that come out for games here are the players, the coaches, a few scattered members of the media, family and friends.
Back in my freshman year of high school, I was drawn to the sport for a variety of reasons. Most significantly, I was jumping on the bandwagon. How so, you ask? Well, every Asian high schooler in my neck of the woods (or rather, suburbs) played volleyball. It was a stereotype as prevalent as math and science, four eyes and rice rockets.
So when springtime came around in 1997, I -- like the good follow-the-trend person that I am -- went to try out for the Richard Montgomery High School Boys' Volleyball team. I stood at about 5'6", had no hops and every swing I took at the ball seemed to find its way into the net or the back of the coach's head.
But I had one thing going for me -- I'm left-handed. And in the state of Maryland where only three out of 23 counties have high school boys' volleyball as a varsity sport, the advantage of being a southpaw put me on the team.
Soon, my coach realized that I would never develop a decent vertical. And by decent, I mean being able to get more than my wrists over the eight-foot regulation net. In contrast, college stars like Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne's Hector Soto or Pepperdine's Scott Wong can get their shoulders above the tape. Anyways, for this reason (and because I couldn't pass or hit to save my life), I was moved to the setter position. Being left-handed gave me the ability to deceptively dump the ball (a cheap move that only works on a regular basis in the high school game).
In my junior year, I earned a spot in the starting six at my position (translation: the guy who ran the offense my first two years on the team graduated).
That year, we played our archrival -- Churchill High School -- in their gym. We hated the Bulldogs. Mostly because being in the same division as them meant chalking up two tallies in the loss column every season by embarrassing margins. We had already dropped a match to them earlier in the season on our court, so we weren't expecting much as we walked into their building and took note of the audience of around 100 -- about 80 more than the number that showed up to our games on a good day.
So when we split the first two games and forced a deciding game three that spring in 1999, things were looking up. I remember actually believing we had a chance to snap our losing streak to them that dated back to the days when "read my lips, no new taxes" was president of our country. But after they jumped out to a quick lead, and had us down 13-8, my hope was rapidly diminishing.
We then staged what was by far the best comeback in the history of high school boys' volleyball in Montgomery County (in my expert, objective opinion) to tie it up at 14-14. I then served the final two points in the game that gave us the upset victory. I was mauled on the court, but it was a good maul. The kind you get, well, after you upset the best team in the county. It was a memory that I'll never forget, especially since the rest of that season was tarnished with an 8-6 record that put us out of the playoffs by a couple of tiebreaker percentage points.
We came back to beat the Bulldogs again my senior year, when we posted the school's best ever record at 11-3, made the playoffs and were one game shy of making it out of round-robin pool play and into the championship match.
I don't play the sport competitively anymore for a couple of reasons. I'm 5'10", I still have no hops and my skill level compared to the average college player reminds me of my days as a freshman at high school tryouts.
But the game has never been taken away from me. I videotape the two or three matches each year that run on ESPN at 3 a.m., and watch them over and over again. I avidly read Volleyball Magazine and keep up-to-date with pro players on the beach circuit and the indoor circuit. And I pepper with some friends once in awhile.
So why do I tell you all this? On this side of the country where the sun is horrifyingly intensified by the humidity and the scattered beaches rarely host competitive volleyball tournaments at the junior, college or professional level, not enough people are exposed to volleyball.
But times are changing. In fact, integral parts of the game are changing to make it more television-friendly and with the hopes that non-volleyball players will take another look.
I hate the changes that are being handed down by the NCAA and the Federation Internationale de Volley Ball (why volley and ball are two words to everybody else except us, I will never know) because I think they're screwing up fundamental parts of a very good game that plenty of people have enjoyed for quite some time.
But by doing these things, the FIVB is hoping to get more people interested in volleyball at all levels. And that is a positive, hands down. So, for their sake, for my sake and for everyone else's sake who is already fascinated with the sport, I hope these changes are effective and more people start realizing that the Palestra is the home of Penn sports in the fall, too.
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