One of the joys of college athletics is that a sports fan who is bereft of other activities to fill his time can check out all sorts of sports that are not traditional professional sports. For every football or basketball game, there’s a fencing match or an archery ... thing. (Meet? Shoot? Game? It is a mystery to me.)
On Friday, I went to the home opener of the Columbia volleyball team in Levien Gym, as the Lions took on Boston College. After three losses to start the season on the road, the Light Blue was looking to take advantage of some home cooking in the Columbia Invitational, a four-team mini-tournament on Friday and Saturday.
The crowd was announced at just 217 people, but a high percentage of these attendees were a rowdy clump of Columbia students, making a lot of noise and doing their best to distract the enemy Eagles. Not that it seemed to make much difference in the first two sets. Even though the players on the opposing bench seemed to hear the taunts from the stands, occasionally turning and chuckling, Boston College took the first two sets with little difficulty.
Volleyball matches are best-of-five sets, each one first to 25. (The fifth, if necessary, is just to 15. More on that later.) After playing nearly 100, the Lions had nothing to show for it—down two sets to nil against an aggressive and talented opponent.
I can’t even imagine the mental energy it must take to get ready to play a third set in that situation, facing the biggest mountain you could possibly need to climb in a match. The physical situation must be even more difficult.
There is no question that football players take one hell of a pounding every week—but after watching five sets of volleyball, I’m much more impressed by the players’ ability to withstand pain. Almost every play, one or more players would take a spiked ball off their forearms, or dive recklessly across the hardwood floor to keep a ball in the air. Football players at least have the benefit of pads and pants. Volleyball players, limited to knee pads and extremely short shorts, make sounds similar to nails on a chalkboard as they dive. The most common word that kept popping into my mind during the first two sets was simply “ouch!”
But despite physical and mental exhaustion, the team began a remarkable comeback. They jumped out to an 8-1 lead in the third set, a lead they did not relinquish. The fourth set was closer, but the Lions made remarkable play after remarkable play to hold on and take that set as well.
The crowd was rocking and rolling in the fifth set, but the Lions couldn’t hang on, as BC recovered from a 9-6 deficit to become the first team to 15 and win the match.
The result, disappointing for both the crowd and the team, still gives me some encouragement for the year to come. As was pointed out in these pages a few days ago, the Lions are looking to rebound this year after losing three All-Ivy players in the offseason. There’s no question that there will be some early-season—and possibly all-season—struggles with such a young group. But Friday’s performance demonstrated to this uneducated observer that the Lions aren’t going to give up, even when the odds are stacked against them.
Peter Andrews is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. He is a member of Spectator’s editorial board and interim head manager of the Columbia University Marching Band. For Pete’s Sake runs biweekly.