Thursday, October 2, 2008

I got the beat!

This week in my sports journalism class we got to pick our "beats" for the semester. Basically a beat is the sport or team you're assigned to cover, where it is your responsibility to hunt down and report the stories going on within that sport or team. We had four options for this semester (which was largely dependent on what UT sports were in season and the professor's desire for us to cover lower-profile sports): soccer, golf, women's volleyball, and swimming and diving.

I faced a mild conundrum because I'm very interested in both volleyball and swimming. I played varsity volleyball for four years in high school. I loved the sport and my senior year we even won the state title!

But I also love swimming. I grew up with the sport and swam summer league for 11 years. I would have swum for my high school, but they didn't get the sport until a year or two after I graduated (figures).

Anyway, in a few minute span I had to decide which sport I wanted to cover. The question "what is a libero?" put the final nail in the me-covering-volleyball coffin. The sport has changed drastically since I played, and I thought my having played earlier in life would put me at a great advantage for covering the sport. That probably is the case, but there are so many ways the game has changed, and it'd probably take me quite a bit of research to comfortably catch up.

When I played volleyball in high school (which is approaching a decade ago, yikes!) there was no libero position. To this day I still don't wholly grasp the concept of this position in volleyball, but I do know that they wear a different color jersey than everyone else on the court and they are utilized in some sort of defensive capacity (think digs, or "bumping" in your high school gym class). I guess I should do more studying up here.

The sport has changed in other ways too, and it was starting to change towards the end of my "career" (a laughable concept). I played some J.O. (Junior Olympics, a division under the USA Volleyball umbrella) volleyball simultaneously, and it was a lot more up-to-date in rules and allowances than high school play was. Rules trickled down to high school play years after they had been enacted in USA Volleyball and J.O. play. Whenever you'd suit up to play in either realm, you always had to be cognizant of the rules in your league. I can't tell you how many points have been screwed up in either division as a result of the varying rules.

Anyway, among other renovations to volleyball since my play (late '90s and yes, some 2000s) included the adopting of rally score, where every point played resulted in a point for a team. In high school, you could only score if your team served. We once got in a feisty game against a rival from across the state where both teams went about 10 or 15 minutes without scoring because we just kept getting sideouts on every point. Very dramatic, and probably one of the most exhilarating games I've ever played in.

You're also now allowed to hit the net when you serve. In J.O.'s we were allowed to too (it had to be like a let in tennis in order to be considered in play), but in high school, it counted as an automatic sideout, even if it landed in-bounds. In high school we weren't allowed to set (overhand pass) on the first hit for your side either, though we were allowed to at J.O.'s. As you can see it's getting pretty confusing, and I probably skipped a bunch more disparities between the two.

Now that it's been so long, VHSL (Virginia High School League, where I played), has adopted most of the USA Volleyball rules I mentioned. They also no longer play first to 15, win by two. It's still win by two, but now they use rally scoring, but it's first to 25, win by two for each game. This is how NCAA plays too.

Anyway, you can probably follow that there's been a lot of confusion in the sport over the years.

Keeping this in mind, and that my volleyball knowledge needs a serious dusting before use again, I thought swimming would be a wiser choice for my sports beat. I'm pretty sure it hasn't changed much. Butterfly is still the most exhausting stroke for your upper body, 50 free is still the fastest and most exciting events, and the strokes of the IM and medley relays are still in the same order. Winners are still determined by fastest times. Maybe the swimsuit technology has changed, but the sport is still the same. There's some major relief in that.

Oh yeah, I also don't mind that I'll get to be interviewing Olympic swimmers and coaches on a regular basis. Did I mention that eight (8!) current and former Longhorns made the US team that competed in Beijing? Oh yeah, and apparently we get to chat with former UT swimmers who train with Longhorn Aquatics as well. Should make for exciting material to report!

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