HEATHER LYONS: Volleyball Not Just for Girls Anymore
When I was on the volleyball team in high school, boys would approach me in the hallway and ask very discreetly, "Do you know any guys who play this sport? It looks like fun."
Unfortunately, my answer was always no; volleyball was a game that girls played, not boys.
While talking to my editor, Steve Bouser, about this article, I asked if he played volleyball as a boy. He smiled and said, "No, that was girl stuff. The boys played basketball and the girls played volleyball during gym class. Actually, I watched my first volleyball match on Sunday night during the Olympics."
Even my husband, whom I met on a sand volleyball court, was a really good volleyball player at the time, but he wouldn't have dreamed of playing volleyball in high school. "I never had the opportunity; I was never exposed to the game," he said. After Sunday night's men's volleyball gold medal match, I guarantee there will be more boys who loudly proclaim, "I want to play volleyball!"
I have been an Olympics junkie for the past two weeks. At 8 p.m. sharp, with my children tucked safely in bed, I have run to the couch and turned on the television. I loved watching the swimming, like everyone else in the world; the synchronized diving; and the track and field. Of course, some of the sports I could have done without. But the men's indoor volleyball? I watched the U.S. team beat Brazil on Sunday night and was so captivated that I hesitated when one of my children cried out in his sleep. Not good timing!
There was more to it than just a volleyball game, though. It was the triumph over tragedy (head coach Hugh McCutcheon's father-in-law was murdered in Beijing on Aug. 9), the extra "fight" those men gave for their coach. Even with the awful tragedy that occurred, this team, which was ranked No. 9 in the world only a year ago, went 8-0 during the Olympics (without their head coach for the first three matches) and beat the top-ranked, defending champion Brazilian team 3-1 in the final match.
Obviously, I'm impressed by hard work, stats, and a game that makes me want to ignore family obligations. So it probably won't surprise anyone that during these Olympics I also have been a big fan of the phenomenal beach volleyball duo, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. (And yes, I know the U.S. men's beach volleyball team won the gold medal, too.) Since the 2004 Athens Olympics, May-Treanor's and Walsh's record is 457-18, and in these Olympic Games, not only did they beat their opponents, they never lost a game. How can anyone be that good?
I played volleyball for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the 1980s and dabbled in beach volleyball in Delaware in the early 1990s. I thought pre-season at Carolina was tough, but nothing compared to playing volleyball in the sand. After a match at the beach, I looked like a sandstorm had struck, and I was physically exhausted. Have you ever tried jumping and hitting a volleyball over a 7'4 1/8" net -- all at the same time and in the sand? And add some rain to that scenario to make it more like the gold medal match in Beijing. I wasn't even playing the caliber of volleyball May-Treanor and Walsh play.
The only player who reminds me of the famous duo is Nancy Reno. In my day, she was my biggest foe. I'll never forget her -- tall, menacing, powerful. I played against her in high school when I lived in the Chicago area. I was devastated when her team beat mine in the state championship play-in game. She was an amazing hitter. I tried blocking her, but she always seemed to find a way around my hands. The rest of her game wasn't too shabby, either.
And neither is May-Treanor's and Walsh's. Because of feats like theirs, and maybe the skimpy outfits the players wear, the sport has increasingly gained international attention, and as the crowds have increased, so have the sponsorships and cash prizes. The International Olympic Committee made beach volleyball a demonstration sport in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. It was a medal sport for years later in Atlanta. My archrival, Reno, and her partner, Holly McPeak, finished fifth in Atlanta.
Now that the Olympics has ended, the only places we'll probably see the men's team and May-Treanor and Walsh are on boxes of Wheaties and the covers of magazines, which is not such a bad place to be.
I, for one, look forward to sitting on the couch and watching some really good volleyball in 2012 at the London Summer Olympics.
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