USC vs. Stanford: Women’s College Volleyball At Its Finest
…Continued from the previous post.
I like to think that I know my way around a volleyball court. In fact, I’ve got a Certificate Of Recognition kicking around somewhere that identifies me as a member of an Ithaca College co-rec intramural championship team. I don’t recall the year, or what our team name was, but this I do remember: Our girls won it for us.
In classic co-rec volleyball, all of the tall goofy guys constantly reaching over the net trying to block the shot of the opposing tall goofy guys pretty much cancel each other out. The girls who do the digging, passing and setting are really the deciding factor. My team had Daryl and Donna, both varsity athletes in other women’s sports. As long as we guys didn’t screw it up, we were destined for all the glory and perks that come with a co-rec intramural championship. I did mention the Certificate, didn’t I?
I thought about that as I sat in USC’s Galen Center watching the Women of Troy volleyball team warm up prior to their match against the Stanford Cardinal, the top-ranked team in the nation. And I wondered how many guys were wandering around with Certificates of Recognition thanks to these girls.
Another thought that crossed my mind was how this game would stack up against the men’s game that I had witnessed when I attended the NCAA Championships in the Spring. Having just recently completed a “compare and contrast” exercise involving men’s and women’s college soccer, I was already pre-programmed to notice any significant differences between the two styles of play.
Sure enough, in no time at all, I identified the primary point of differentiation. The girls had longer hair.
That’s about it. Other than that, women’s volleyball looked pretty much like men’s volleyball – at least at the elite collegiate level. Bump, set, kill, then set up to block. Sure the men hit the ball harder on kill shots…but then again, the men also send a lot more kill shots sailing out of play.
There is one thing the ladies could learn from the men though. Drama. Based on my admittedly unscientific observation of just two matches, I would say that the men are better fakers. That is to say they sell the decoy kill harder.
At the NCAA Championships I had to watch closely to see from whom the kill shot would actually come, such was the quantity of flying bodies and quality of their fakes. At this game, it was almost always obvious who was being set up for the kill. Sure the ladies made an effort, but more often than not, their fakes looked more like they were hailing a cab or waving to a friend in the stands. Ladies – a little theater, please. We are after all, just down the road from Hollywood.
As the first set of the match unfolded, I had to remind myself that it was Stanford that was undefeated and top-ranked in the country and not USC. The Women of Troy dominated early, let down a bit allowing Stanford to get close, and then put the hammer down to win 25-18. This was going to be easy.
At the conclusion of the first set I decided to relocate, just to get a different perspective. In doing so, I mistakenly wandered into the no-fly zone behind the team benches and press row, and as I passed the player huddles I experienced something pretty foreign. I found myself looking up at an entire group of people – female people. At 6’ 6”, that doesn’t happen to me often. Or ever.
When I got to my new seat I consulted the event program. Sure enough, there were ten players listed at 6’3” or taller. Given that the wood flooring of the volleyball court that they were standing on provided a slight rise off of the concrete floor that I occupied, we were all more or less the same height as I walked by.
I couldn’t help wondering how impactful this was on the daily life of these girls. Their stature was truly a gift from the volleyball gods, combined as it was with their pure athletic grace. There wasn’t an awkward, gangly player on either team, nor did any exhibit the shoulder slouch of someone self-conscious about her height. But what about off the court?
It’s probably safe to assume that as teammates and friends they probably go out together, and that fashion would dictate that some would even wear heels when doing so. Given that these were all very pretty girls, I chuckled to myself at the thought of this group arriving en masse at a club or campus party. Talk about creating a presence!
It would take a superhuman level of confidence on the part of your average 20-year old guy to venture into that fray and introduce himself. Check that – it would take a superhuman effort to simply pick one’s 20-year old jaw off the floor.
A different Stanford team emerged from the bench for the second set, and from the outset they matched USC point for point. Literally. One team would score, then the other, back and forth until it was 23-23. Stanford then broke through and won back to back points to take the set 25-23. Match on.
The third set was almost a carbon copy of the point-trading second. USC did their scoring on a lot of flashy kills, typically on plays begun by Natalie Hagglund, their libero (roughly the volleyball equivalent of football’s middle linebacker), and finished by 6’3” Alex Jupiter, 6’4” Falyn Fonoimoana, or 6’5” Alexis Olgard.
While USC plied their offensive skills impressively, Stanford scored more often than not through solid fundamental defense. As the evening wore on, Stanford began to control the battle at the net with a strong blocking game. And that helped them to once again in the third set get their nose across the finish line first, winning 25-20 and going up 2-1 in the match.
Up until then, neither side was making many unforced errors. Points were earned rather than gifted. But that came to an end in the fourth set. The youthful Women of Troy started to make mistakes – a botched set here, an airmailed serve there. USC began to look nothing like the team that had come out and dominated the first set.
Not surprisingly, the more experienced Cardinal team capitalized.
The fifth set was like a Discovery Channel documentary in which Stanford adopted the role of predator du jour and USC played the part of the wildebeest. You just knew it was not going to end well for the latter. Sure enough, the 25-15 score of the final set was barely that close. Stanford had asserted itself for a 3-1 match win.
The crowd took their time exiting the arena, and I did too, wandering out to take a more leisurely tour of the hardware in the lobby.
Two walls facing each other across the lobby are filled from top to bottom with replicas of USC’s national championship trophies. The expanse of wall that connects these two displays is made up of a timeline that lays out the USC championship legacy year-by-year, with team photos and key information about each particular accomplishment. I located the entry for the 2003 women’s golf team, and smiled at how young some of the players that I’ve subsequently come to know looked at the time.
I stopped by still another wall that contained nothing other than mounted reproductions of Sports Illustrated issues that over the years had featured a USC team or athlete on the cover, or contained feature stories within.
While marveling at how quickly the name “Reggie Bush” had evaporated from that display, it dawned on me that there were a large number of people still in the building – almost 30 minutes after play had ended.
Upon rounding the corner to see if perhaps I had missed something, I saw the sign. “Post-Match Reception – Enter Here”. And below that, “Open To Everyone”. Of course it was. So naturally I went in. I didn’t even need to show my Certificate of Recognition.
Next Up: The World Adult Kickball Association Founders Cup (yes, I said Kickball)