On Saturday, I attended my first-ever college volleyball game, Albion versus Transylvania University. I don’t know much about volleyball; my limited knowledge comes from my mother’s stories of her playing days and the anime “Haikyuu” – the latter not being 100% accurate to the actual sport.
I went to the game with a couple of friends and I had a great time, even though I didn’t understand half of what was happening. The game started a little late, but it was worth watching both teams warm up beforehand. This allowed me to get a feel for the intensity of the game, even before the match started.
Included in my limited knowledge of volleyball are the moves: Passing, setting, spiking, blocking and digging. Passing is when you bump – another name for the move – the ball on the sides of your wrists. Setting is when you push the ball up with your fingers, careful not to let it touch your palms. A spike is the act of hitting the ball, hard, over the net.
Blocking is a sort of wall that is created by the players to prevent the ball from going over the net. Digging is when a player digs low into the ground with their body to save the ball if it’s missed by other players.
There were multiple times throughout the game where good sportsmanship was clear from each team. In the beginning, each team lined up on different sides of the net and high-fived each other while saying words of encouragement. After each point, the athletes playing would huddle with their teammates on the court and give each other pats on the lower back saying, “good job.”
The game itself was suspenseful and captivating. Time felt like it was going so fast – even when it wasn’t. The entire game lasted just over an hour and a half – it wasn’t timed.
On each side of the net, there were six players on the court. Each has a position: there is one right-side hitter, one setter, two middle hitters and two left-side hitters. There is also a position called “Libero” that only plays in the back of the court. During rotation, they sub into either a middle or left-side position when they are not serving.
The first set ended with Albion winning 25-20.
During the game, there was lots of back and forth. The main goal of volleyball is to keep the ball from hitting the ground – that’s one of the ways you can get a point. My high school volleyball team wasn’t very good – so I went into the gymnasium expecting the game to end rather quickly with points being made every 30 seconds.
The first two points from Albion were made in less than 10 minutes. After that, the game grew in its intensity. To win a set, you have to be the first team to get to 25 with a two-point difference, meaning the team you’re playing against has to be two points below 25.
The second set ended with Transylvania evening the match 25-17.
From this point on, I was on the edge of my seat.
There were so many great saves throughout the game. My favorite was a save by player number one Mariah Brenz, a Grand Blanc senior. One of the girls from Transylvania University spiked the ball over the net, and Albion Madison McGraw’s – number four and Clarkston junior – quick bump reaction saved it from hitting the ground. In an attempt to keep it above ground, the ball went toward the out-of-bounds line. Brenz ran over and kept the ball from scoring outside the lines, almost hitting the wall in the process.
The third set ended with Transylvania winning 25-19.
My friends and I kept asking each other who was going to get the point this time and expressing how heightened our energy was – we were, frankly, fascinated.
At some points, I could feel my hands starting to tingle because of how hard the ball was being spiked, and I thought mine would probably break upon impact.
I think another addition to the suspense of the game is how dangerous it is. There are multiple injuries that can occur while playing this sport. If you land wrong while serving, you could tear something in your leg or if you hit the ball wrong, you could break a finger. At one point in the fourth set, a girl on the Transylvania team banged her head on the Albion Athletics stand saving the ball. This is why talking is imperative, something I learned from my time in softball.
As an ex-softball player, I can count on both hands how many times I’ve run into my teammate going towards an in-field fly ball because we weren’t talking. Saying “I got it” or “mine” while on the court can prevent a lot of unwanted injuries; the volleyball team did this very well.
Towards the end, I thought I understood the rules of volleyball clearly. No more surprises for a newbie like me!
I was wrong.
After the fourth set, which ended with Albion winning 25-22, there was a fifth set. Volleyball games go up to five sets, and the final win is determined by the team who wins three out of those five sets. During the fifth set, the teams did not switch sides. I remember leaning over and asking my friend to double-check and make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.
They did, however, switch after Transylvania reached eight points. At this point, I was even more confused. Afterward, I did some research and found out the reason for switching sides was to give each team an equal playing field.
On each side of the court, there are different obstacles that could affect the way you play. Whether that be the lighting, the placement of various objects or even the ceiling. Since five is an odd number, it makes sense that there would be a shift during the last set so everyone is on each side five times.
This also played into the question I had after the first shift following the first set. Does the side of the court you’re on affect the way you play? Because of these differences, however subtle, it can.
Each team has to get used to playing on a different side. This could slow down the game a little bit because everyone needs to get situated, but after some time, players adapt.
I was also confused at the end of the game when the remaining score was Transylvania winning 17-15. Why hadn’t they gone up to 25 like the rest of the sets? This is because the last set is a tiebreaker. If both teams win two sets, then the last determines who wins the game.
One thing I was not expecting to see when watching was how each team was competitive – but managed to have fun throughout the game. The players on the sidelines watched the game intently while messing around here and there and lightly conversing with each other. During the breaks, some players even danced to the music.
One girl from Transylvania picked up another player on her team and did squats with her on her shoulders.
All and all, I really enjoyed the time I spent at the game. Usually, I only enjoy watching college softball, but I could feel my heart pounding and the blood rushing through my body as I sat in the stands on Saturday.
Needless to say, I will definitely be attending another game soon. Go Brits!