Boys Vball: “Us against the world”

If you haven’t played, coached or perhaps know someone who played or coached high school volleyball, you just don’t understand.

Volleyball isn’t simply about getting the ball over the net. Bump, set and spike is the foundation. However, there is so much more.

I’m a bit biased when it comes to the sport, because I played it at Lynwood High in southeast Los Angeles.

Lynwood wasn’t exactly a volleyball power, but it was good back in the early to mid 1990’s. All the credit goes to coach Carl Buggs, who built the girls and boys programs. (Buggs left Lynwood for Long Beach Poly to be the girls basketball coach in 1996. The Jackrabbits just won
back-to-back DI state championships against Berkeley).

I wasn’t always a volleyball supporter. I was a baseball player my freshman and sophomore year, until all of my friends — already on the team — convinced me to try out. It’s a sport that definitely grows on you.

As a teenager, I watched the USA Men’s National Team and was amazed by the skill and power with which those guys played the game. (By the way, Lloy Ball might be back in the mix.) I followed the AVP tour and learned Karch Kiraly (and is funny pink hat) was the sports’ godfather. (Farewell Karch.)

In the summer, I’d drive 15 minutes down the 105 freeway to Manhattan Beach with my friends to play “doubles” on the sand. In the gym, we’d practice diving for free balls just for kicks.

As a setter, I loved putting variations on the famed “X” play. On a perfect pass, and if ran with precision, the play looked like the water show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Guys would come from every direction. One would jump for a quick up the middle, another right behind him, another for shoot, meanwhile I’d set the back row hitter. We called it a “pipe.” Of course, it never worked, but it looked good.

My friends and I talked a whole other language.

We thought the word “Mikasa” sounded so cool. We used terms like Pancake, Chicken Wing and Six Pack. We could “pepper” all day. We tried hitting “10-footers” and “chesters” and celebrated if you “Roofed” someone, or “pounded” the ball, or if you got a “waterfall” on the opposing block. There was nothing like winning a “joust” at the net, or setting a “quick” with just one hand, your thumb and two fingers, arm extended at the height of a jump. If you did it right, you wouldn’t be called for a “lift.”

All this was nearly 10 years ago for me. I’m sure some of those terms have changed. I’m also sure a lot of it remains the same.

But I’ve learned one thing from playing the sport and now covering it for the Times: Volleyball is a community with almost a cult-like following and not much else. On high school campuses now, volleyball probably doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It sure doesn’t with the average sports fan. Some may disagree with that, but c’mon, let’s face reality.

I agree with some points made by my colleague Mike McGreehan (read below), a veteran of the Bay Area sports scene. But I think his argument depends on what side of the hill your school is on. For example, ACCAL and EBAL volleyball are too different worlds.

I am no expert. I never played club ball (didn’t have the money) or college (didn’t have the talent). But I did play in high school and had a blast. I still have volleyball’s “us against the world” mentality, as silly as that may sound.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that volleyball, boys and girls, will always struggle to claim the spotlight, but it’s not a lost cause.

At least it’s not for me.


  • Julie Clement

    Actually, Karch started playing as a kid on the beaches in Santa Barbara and does not qualify as the “godfather” of men’s vball. Even Singin Smith, a bit older than Karch, and fun to look at cannot make that claim. The true godfathers of the sport were hitting the beaches of SoCal earlier than either of these two more recognizable celebs of the vball set. A lack of high profile sponsors for their tournaments, and lack of TV coverage all contributed to their anonymity, but they are truly the pioneers who paved the way for Karch and the AVP.

  • Ricardo Sanchez Jr.

    Good point Julie. There are always unheralded pioneers who pave the way in all sports. But if you ask anyone who doesn’t know a lick of volleyball to name a volleyball player, they’d probably start with Karch Kiraly (or they might look at you funny and move on). To me, Kiraly was the “Micheal Jordan” of volleyball. Jordan didn’t invent or pioneer the game, but many believe he is the greatest of all time. Same arguement can be made for Karch. That’s all I was trying to say, but again, I’m no expert.

  • Julie Clement

    Karch is undoubtably one of the most well recognized faces if for no other reason his longevity during the age of televised tournaments, his participation in the Olympics, and his ability to capitalize on endorsement offers from such companies as Speedo and Ray-Ban. I get that he is “the face” of men’s vball in many ways.
    As for his predecessors, they were unheralded only by those outside the culture of beach volleyball. They definitely had a cult following!

  • Mike McGreehan

    In regard to the eras before Karch Kiraly: despite the presence of a U.S. Volleyball Hall of Fame, the game does little to celebrate its history – – at least in the United States. Sadly, though not surprisingly, anything that happened in volleyball before the 1980s pretty much is a vast wasteland for most U.S. residents. And this is a sport, by the way, that organized its first world championship for men in 1949, its first world championship for women in 1952, became a part of the Pan Am Games for both men and women in 1955 and has been part of the Olympics for both since 1964.