Fell in love with a girl?sport

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

I have a confession to make, and it isn’t one that I am necessarily proud of. Before Sept. 23, it had been a long time since I attended one of the U’s virtually unknown sporting events. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I attended a volleyball, soccer, baseball or swimming event. And since I recently wrote an article that tried to explain why students didn’t attend these events more often, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and make it out to one of these events as a spectator.

I have always had trouble getting into women’s sports. I mean, women’s gymnastics has always been one of my favorite Olympic events (Kerri Strug’s one-footed vault in the 1996 Olympics is still one of my all-time-favorite sports moments), and I also grew up watching women’s tennis along with men’s tennis regularly, but that was about the extent of my interest in women’s sports.

When I went to San Diego two weekends ago to cover the U football game against San Diego State, I had no idea that I would fall in love with another women’s sport.

Chris Bellamy, that whimsical Chronicle sports editor, informed me that we were heading down to SDSU’s Peterson Gym to watch the volleyball team take on the Aztecs. Realizing this was an opportunity to see what I was missing, I told him I was game. I had no idea that it would be love at first sight.

The first instance that made my jaw sag was watching Kat Lovell snap one of her lethal jump serves at the opposing team. In the following few minutes, I also saw Lovell, Airial Salvo and Kate Robison all flush gorgeous kills down the SDSU Aztecs’ throats. I watched Emillie Toone and Lori Baird dominate at the net, and I even learned what a libero was and why Connie Dangerfield was the only Ute in white, as she went down and dug out another SDSU kill.

Like a kid that had just found out there was a new flavor of Pez, or that time I first saw “Cirque du Soleil,” I kept looking at Bellamy with that, “I can’t believe how good these girls are” look on my face.

I don’t know too many of the rules in volleyball. I was so ignorant that I thought a team couldn’t score unless it was on its own serve, but I can tell you that my ignorance did not affect my enjoyment of the game.

Those women are skilled athletes, and wow, can they hit the ball. Hard. Volleyball is such a fast-paced and intense game that I found myself wondering why we don’t see more of it on TV. I can say that it was much better watching it in person. The atmosphere was so far removed from the remoteness that a typical fan experiences in a basketball or football game that I found myself wondering when the next match would be.

From my $3 seat, I was right in front of the action and I could hear every word being expressed. I could even hear the frustrated expletives that came mostly from SDSU setter Leah Lathrop, as her team could not handle the barrage of kills that were being shoved down its throats like cough medicine from the U’s outside hitters.

My fascination was not in the fact that women were doing it, either-gender did not matter. I was impressed that human beings were playing this sport the way the U women were able to.

The best surprise of the afternoon was how close the players seemed to be. If one of them missed a dig, the others encouraged her, no matter what the score. If one served a ball into the net, there were no blaming glares; everyone just huddled back up and told each other to get out there and get the next one. I was pleasantly surprised to see how much poise and camaraderie the team had. It was a subtle yet welcome change from the scenery that surrounds much of the professional landscape today.

I instantly thought back to the way John Stockton played the game of basketball. He was so unselfish in the way he distributed the ball and the little things he did to win. His interviews after the game will stick in my mind for eternity. He never had anything bad to say about his teammates, and every positive he had was because of his teammates and not because he was a great basketball player. John Stockton was the first person who made me appreciate what a team is, and the U’s volleyball team has those same qualities.

I couldn’t help wanting to go interview a few of these athletes after the game. Undoubtedly, they would have reacted the same way Stockton did so many times after Jazz victories. There was an innate aura that surrounded this team, and I had no doubt that each player would have expressed praise to each one of her teammates before taking the credit upon her own shoulders.

I don’t want to make it sound like I am getting all sensitive over a volleyball match, but it was fun to watch. The action was there, but the indescribable thing that is lost when players ascend to the world of professional sports was evident. It is a thing the majority of students are missing out on when they neglect sports like volleyball, swimming, baseball and soccer. I now understand what all those people I interviewed were talking about when they mentioned a certain something that was there at a volleyball or soccer match. Events like the volleyball matches have the “it” factor that you just don’t find in competitive sports anymore, and it’s a shame more people, especially U students, haven’t taken the opportunity to witness it.