Pick it up and put it down. Volleyball reduced to its most basic form. The server picks the ball up and the game begins, with the goal of grounding the ball within the opposition’s 81-square-metre area. Reductionism in any sport makes it appear simple, and volleyball is a game of two halves not as the cliché is generally applied, but in the literal division of the court. The opposition are also vying to pick it up and put it down. Reductionism illuminates the end goal, but closer analysis reveals that the devil is very much in the detail.
On the court and off it, the principles of positivity, encouragement and friendship underpin Trinity Volleyball Club. Last week, I met with six members to learn about the club, the sport and the greater volleyball scene.
Admittedly, I knew very little about volleyball before I turned up. I was aware that it is played in halls and beaches, but even the racking of my brain for a pop-culture reference failed to produce any anchoring thought. With no real base to start from, I opened the floor to the six club members sitting across from me.
Founded in 1987, Trinity Volleyball Club has been a feature of the college for 30 years. There are currently four Trinity indoor volleyball teams competing in four different leagues. The men’s and women’s National League teams are open to students and non-students alike, while in the SSI League, eligibility is for college students only.
Club members train twice weekly. On Tuesdays, all teams train from 8pm to 10pm and on Thursdays both teams train from 7pm to 8.30pm, with a second ensuing slot alternating on a bi-weekly basis between the men’s and the women’s teams.
Hampered by injuries, the side have struggled to find consistent winning form
On Friday night, an open session takes place, where new players can learn the basics of volleyball. It is the starting point for anyone looking to progress onto the student or National League sides. Most people in attendance on a Friday don’t have aspirations of playing competitively, instead taking the opportunity to socialise, pick up some new skills and get some exercise.
Competitive matches generally range from one to three hours with six players on each team. Matches are decided over the best of five sets. A team must score at least 25 points to win a set. If the two teams are tied at 24 points, a tie-breaker is called. In this scenario, the first team to go two points clear win the set.
The women’s team have enjoyed a stellar season thus far at both intercollegiate and National League level, sitting atop both leagues with with a 100% record. That is not to say the season has been without disappointment. The student side were eliminated at the semi-final stage in the recent intervarsities tournament in University College Cork (UCC). The team’s players are cautiously optimistic about the season going forward, knowing bigger challenges are still to come if they are going to hold the top spots.
“UCC have a very strong side”, club captain Jenny Gansau explains, the recent loss to the side in intervarsities fresh in the minds of the team. Katie Ward mentions the game against University College Dublin (UCD) – the local derby always a pivotal match in the calendar with bragging rights around the capital up for grabs.
The men’s teams have had a mixed season. Like the women’s team, the side have maintained an unbeaten run this season in the SSI league and are on top of the league. Mirroring the women’s team success, the side also mirrored their failures, crashing out of the Intervarsities in Cork at the semi-final stage.
In the National League, the men’s team have recorded two wins and four losses. Hampered by injuries, the side have struggled to find consistent winning form. A strong win last Thursday against Santry was closely followed by a narrow defeat three days later at the hands of Aer Lingus. Currently ensconced firmly in mid-table, the side is looking up rather than down and expect to improve their position in the second half of the season
A non-contact sport, competitive volleyball is, nonetheless, not for the faint hearted, with injuries commonplace on the hard court. “Don’t be afraid of the floor”, quips Subash Raj.
Sometimes you get lost in the chaos
The group all emphasise the importance of positional awareness and tactical prowess necessary for on-court success. This can prove a shock to the system for new members. “I didn’t know anything about rotations, I didn’t know it existed”, says recently-elected events organiser Theodoric Plichart, reminiscing about his early days at the club. Coming from a soccer background, the technical and positional elements of volleyball took him a while to get used to: “After a while it becomes second nature, but it is difficult at the start.” On-court proficiency necessitates complete fluidity with team-mates.
Soon I was in for my own lesson in roles and rotations, my pen and pad put to better use in the hands of Raj. Drawing a diagram, he illustrates the multitudes of on-court nuances with further titbits reverberating around the table from the other players. The crash course gives me a flavour of the surprisingly complex workings at play during a volleyball game. Six people in a nine-by-nine area can become quite crowded if players don’t know where they are, and, more importantly, where they should be. Good coaching is a must and both the men’s and the women’s team have high-calibre coaches with experience in Europe’s top leagues.
Despite the on-court intensity, a good-natured, sporting atmosphere flows through the volleyball community. Assistance and encouragement from the bench is a constant theme during matches. Chants and instructions from the bench mean that the outcome of the game is not solely influenced by the players on the court. As Plichart explains, “sometimes you get lost in the chaos, and help from the bench allows you to correct your position”. On the court, team members exchange high-fives and regularly come together in huddles. And in something of a competitive sporting unicorn, players often encourage members of the opposing side during matches. Commendable play is acknowledged with warm high-fives extending beyond the dividing net, even amid the heat of competition.
An intimate community, forming friendships with opposition players is part and parcel of the volleyball scene, as Gansau explains: “It’s a small community and you recognise faces and get to know players on other teams.”
Players come and go but Trinity Volleyball continues to jump from strength to strength
The recent November intervarsities served as a prime opportunity for players to compete against and meet faces old and new. After competitions concluded, all teams were invited on a night out in Cork. A picture of the of the Old Oak bar is held aloft on a phone, the designated venue to which players from colleges across Ireland retired to unwind in harmony after a weekend of competition.
Lacking widespread popularity in Ireland, the majority of the college club is fuelled by students from further afield, with an impressive 14 different nationalities participating in Trinity Volleyball last year. The club provides an avenue for new students to form friendships and settle into college life in Trinity. “I didn’t know anyone when I first joined but it was such a friendly community”, says Plichart.
The large number of Erasmus students can be a double-edged sword when visiting students are forced to bid farewell at the end of a semester. “It is difficult when teammates must leave halfway through the season,” says Gansau, who has seen her fair share of players come through the club. “Momentum is disrupted, but we adjust.”
Players come and go but Trinity Volleyball continues to jump from strength to strength, with over 40 active members and four teams excelling in high-level competitions. Whether you’re looking to compete at college and national level, develop a new skill or just play around with friends, Trinity Volleyball provides this in spades, with positivity and sportsmanship permeating at all levels of the club.
Pick it up and put it down remains the end goal, but although the simplistic summary has become an in-joke for members of the cub, it doesn’t come close to telling the full story of a club that encompasses so much more – on court and off.