If College Volleyball Were Played In Your Living Room

From a purely “live and die with my team” standpoint, it’s been a tough year for this Sports Fan. Who would have thought that the Anaheim Angels posting a losing record and being eliminated from post-season play in roughly mid-June would have been the second worst thing to afflict my fan-dom in 2010?

I’m speaking of course of the trumped-up charges against the USC football program, and the egregious sanctions that followed. And the beginning of the, sigh, Kiffen years (note the avoidance of the word “era”, which otherwise signifies lengthiness).

After back-to-back Trojan losses on opponent field goals that sailed through the uprights as time expired, I needed a little boost – some sort of pick me up. I decided to go visit the trophies.

The Galen Center, tucked between the campus and L.A.’s 110 freeway, has been the home of USC basketball and volleyball since it opened in 2006. It also serves as a museum of sports history to a certain degree, housing replicas of each championship trophy that USC has earned, as well as commemorative team photos to mark each occasion.

“Big deal,” I hear you saying. “Every college fieldhouse in America has that.” What’s so unique about this one? Well, two things.

First, while other schools have trophy cases, USC has trophy rooms. Almost every square inch of wall space in the roomy main lobby of the Galen Center is lined with championship hardware.

Second…they don’t do conference championship displays. I’m sure they’ve got other rooms where Pac-10 trophies are stacked like cord wood. But in the Galen Center lobby only national championship trophies are on display. Rows and rows and rows of them. It would take hours to cross-check them all, but I assume there’s one for each of the 113 national titles USC has won across 11 different sports.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this total trails the 127 national championships won by cross-town rival UCLA. But that’s not important right now.

What is important is that USC is currently tied at 113 with Stanford. The very same Stanford that currently occupies the #1 ranking in women’s volleyball. And the team that I have traveled to the Galen Center to watch as they take on the 8th- ranked USC Women of Troy. Did I mention that these are the same two teams that opened this facility almost four years ago to the date of my visit? Is this post not dripping with synergy?

Traffic in and around the Galen Center is a gigantic pain, and the parking situation is sketchy at best – what little there is that isn’t occupied by USC students, staff and faculty is worthy of a case study on licensed larceny. And yes, I did have to return to my evidently-built-of-gold-bricks parking garage to put back in my car the backpack that to my surprise was barred from entry to Galen.

On the positive side though, once I did finally get into the building, I found the ticket pricing structure to be quite attractive.

As in free. As in “sit anywhere you want” for free. As in plop down in any of the roughly 10,000 cushioned chairs suitable for a Hollywood private screening room. No, I take that back – seating was limited to just the lower bowl, so you were forced to sit only in the best Barcaloungers-in-training.

They even had an entire custom Sports Fan row waiting for me! I started to think that things might get ugly at the end of the evening when I refused to leave the building.

An Entire Row To Myself!

Seriously, this is a stunningly beautiful arena – one that looks like it opened just yesterday with an inaugural All You Can Eat Off The Floor event.

Despite the fact that the building seats 10,258 for basketball, I can’t imagine a more intimate setting. Every seat has a great sightline, and the angle of the rows is such that no matter where you are, you feel neither too far away nor too high above the action.

The scoreboard is of the state-of-the-art HD variety, notable for how quickly it was able to re-queue action for instant replay. Only a few seconds after the completion of a point on the court, you could see it played again on the big screen – often in slow motion and from a more compelling viewing angle.Whatever information you didn’t get from the overhead scoreboard was presented on one of the ribbon scoreboards that occupied each corner of the arena. I am not overstating it when I say that I never had to move my head to go from live action, to replay, to that play’s impact on the score. If all sports were viewed at arenas like this, the neck muscles that enable humans to turn their heads would eventually atrophy.

USC Gets Ready To Rumble

Women’s volleyball is not what normally leaps to mind when I think of dramatic introductions. As a matter of fact, if you had told me that they would dim the lights and spotlight the players as they were introduced with a “let’s get ready to rumble” announcer shtick, I probably would’ve been prepared to be embarrassed for all concerned. But it worked.

“And now…yooooooorrrrrr…Southern Californiaaaaaaa…WOMEN OF TROY!” It was just bombastic enough to get the crowd going, but not so over the top that it became cartoonish. When the players were individually introduced, they took the court and tossed out a small foam souvenir volleyball – ostensibly to a random spot in the crowd. It was obvious to me though, that some had specific targets. Friends? Family? Hollywood talent scouts?

From what I’d seen so far, anything was possible in this building.

To be concluded in next post…

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