It’s interesting, but volleyball is a very underrated sport.
Outside of those who play it, volleyball doesn’t get a whole lot of press in the national spotlight. Sure, ESPNU has about a game or two a week, but that’s ESPNU. Who honestly goes there if there’s something better to watch. The only time you really see it nationally shown is NCAA tournament time, but even then it’s just a fleeting moment.
But volleyball is actually one of the most interesting sports in the college landscape. It’s a lot like arena football in a way. It’s relatively small nationally, but it’s quick, high energy and intense. Especially intense.
And this past Saturday was a prime example of that.
This past weekend, the Texas Longhorns volleyball team got the honor of hosting the Nike Big 4 Volleyball Classic, pitting four of the top teams in the country against each other. The other three teams were Florida, Stanford and perennial championship contender Penn State.
In a match up that would have been a #1 vs. #2 game had Texas not lost at Hawai’i the previous weekend, there was a ton of hype going into it. I had to get there two hours before game time just to make sure I was able to get in. By the time the gates finally opened, the line was insanely long to get in.
Once inside Gregory, the energy was pretty good during warm ups, but once the game started, things got heated pretty quickly.
The first set was an excruciating back-and-forth game with no team holding a substantial lead. There were 16 ties and seven lead changes in the first set alone, but was able to pull off the 27-25 set win.
The second and third sets would be a much different story.
Texas jumped out to a 10-3 lead to start the second set and seemed to be completely in control and despite Penn State closing the lead to 14-10 at one point, the Longhorns emerged with a 25-17 set win and evened the match at a set apiece.
But after the intermission break, the third set belonged to Penn State. The Nittany Lions scored the first four points of the set and really flat out dominated the set. They were able dig out everything the Longhorns sent their way and capitalized on the mistakes. They took set 3 25-13 and a two sets to one advantage.
The fourth set was a lot like the first. It was a back and forth affair and with Texas needing to win this set, the atmosphere in Gregory got tense. Neither team was able to separate themselves from the other until Texas went on a 5-0 scoring run to take a 11-6 lead. But then Penn State went on a run of their own to tie the game at 19 all; however, Texas answered with a 6-2 run to win the set 25-21 and force a decisive fifth set.
By now the crowd was simply electric. With the Longhorns run to close out the fourth set, many, if not all of the UT fans were on their feet and rocking Gregory. I guess it was to no surprise that the Longhorns were able to close out the match with a 15-10 fifth set win and beat the number one team in the country 3-2.
That was the most electric atmosphere I’ve ever been in hands down. The end of the fourth set and the entire fifth set were insane. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of that before.
The capacity crowd of 4,373 made it impossible for one to hear themselves even think. At one point, the ref blew the play dead in favor of Texas, but the player kept playing because they couldn’t hear the whistle (the play still ended up as a point for Texas). I will admit I had no voice afterwards.
It’s matches like that that make me wonder why volleyball isn’t bigger on the national stage. But for one afternoon in Austin, Texas, volleyball took over football as the best environment on campus.