Volleyball still evolving, gaining popularity

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Volleyball has been steadily increasing in popularity and becoming a more prominent sport around the world.

Nicole Warner and Kimberly Dahl go up for a block against San Diego

At a national level, various world competitions have sprung up, such as the FIVB World Championships, FIVB World League, FIVB World Grand Prix, FIVB World Cup, FIVB Grand Champions Cup and the Olympic Games that show growth in participation throughout the world and the success of volleyball.

BYU senior setter Heather Hannemann from Alpine, said volleyball has also seen an increase in popularity at smaller levels.

“I remember growing up club was a little bit cheaper,” Hannemann said. “But now it’s more expensive and there are so many more clubs. You can see the volleyball world getting bigger and bigger, and more people are trying to play. Here in Utah it’s getting bigger than it ever was, so it’s really exciting.”

Popularity for women’s volleyball is also increasing on a high school level. In August 2012, a survey done by the National Federation of State High School Associations ranked volleyball as No. 3 in girls most popular sport programs, after basketball and track and field. This showed an increase of 187 more high schools participating in volleyball than in 2009, with an increase in about 15,000 more participants.

BYU freshman libero Ciara Parker, from Santa Clara, Calif., said volleyball in her high school was a big deal. While high school volleyball is increasingly getting more support, Parker said college volleyball provides a better opportunity for players to be noticed and draws in more spectators because it is aired on television and the venue is bigger.

“In the high school I went to, volleyball was huge,” Parker said. “We got 300 to 400 kids at our matches, but that’s nothing compared to the thousands that come to volleyball matches here at BYU.”

Support for the BYU women’s volleyball team has continued to grow over the years as the stands become more packed and the Cougars continue to perform well. The Cougars recently came out of an impressive season, winning four invitational tournaments, taking a share in the West Coast Conference title with San Diego and recording only three losses throughout the WCC season. The Cougars also ended the season ranked No. 16 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association coaches’ poll and opened the NCAA tournament seeded at No. 12.

Hannemann was red-shirted her freshman year at BYU and played all four years for the Cougars. Hannemann said she has seen growing support for the Cougars since she has been on the team, especially as the team does well.

“The more you win the more fans you’re going to get,” Hannemann said. “Each year since I’ve been here, I’ve definitely seen it improve in the fans. You can see the difference, and it helps us. When fans come, we win, and when we win, fans come, so that’s kind of nice.”

As the sport has grown in popularity, volleyball has undergone multiple rule changes that have affected players on all levels. In 1999, there was a major rule change in the scoring system. Volleyball was changed to an all-rally scoring, meaning that every play ended in a point.

BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said he remembers that change happening when he started playing at BYU.

“The score changing is way different,” Olmstead said. “That’s a big change because you used to have to serve to be able to score a point, and now every dead ball is a point for somebody. That wasn’t always the case.”

The libero was also introduced at that time. The libero is a defensive player that can substitute for players in back row positions and focuses on passing and digging the ball. The libero has restrictions on play and is not allowed to serve, block or attempt to block.

Parker, one of BYU’s liberos, said the position was added to the team to provide ball control and help out the middles.

“Ball control is a huge part of volleyball,” Parker said. “The better the ball control you have, the better your team is as a whole. I think they found good ball control players and figured they leave them in the back row because they’re generally smaller, so that’s why there is a libero.”

Serving rules also changed affecting play in volleyball. In 1998, only one toss per serve was allowed, and in 1999 the rule was further amended to allow only eight seconds for the server to complete the service. Serves that touched the net, but still went over and in bounds, were also considered playable.

Hannemann said she started out in club volleyball where multiple tosses were allowed per serve. When she moved to higher levels, the change in service rules were not difficult to adopt.

“In club when you were younger you could toss it, and if it was a bad toss, you could drop it,” Hannemann said. “I know now you only have eight seconds to serve, and it seems like a really long time. It’s plenty of time.”

In 2000, the NCAA changed the minimum number of points needed to win any of the first four sets from 30 to 25 for women. In the fifth set the teams play first to 15, win by two.

BYU grad Doug Goodfellow played for BYU when volleyball was a club team in the early 1980s. Goodfellow said the scoring was completely different to how it is now.

“When we played, we didn’t do rally scoring,” Goodfellow said. “Games went to 15 or 21.”

Goodfellow also attended one of the women’s volleyball matches at BYU this past season and said there was a much bigger spectator turnout from when he used to play.

“There’s a lot more people coming to the matches,” Goodfellow said. “That’s clear. There’s a lot more excitement about volleyball. I played on junior varsity so the crowds were much smaller and it was less pressure.”

Olmstead said women’s volleyball is becoming a bigger sport, but spectator popularity is mainly determined by how well the team does.

“It’s becoming more popular,” Olmstead said. “The better you do, the more people come, usually. That’s why the men’s team always has great support, and we hope to have similar support. We’re getting there. We enjoy our home crowd.”

Parker said she has also seen an increase in spectators cheering on women’s volleyball and attending the matches. Students from other schools are also coming in support of the team.

“I’ve noticed a lot of people that I don’t know personally are always like “go volleyball,'” Parker said. “A lot of my classmates from high school go to colleges around here, and they always come watch, so kids from others schools are coming to watch too, which is pretty cool.”

BYU fan Peter Hyoung, a 23-year-old junior majoring in mechanical engineering, said he is able to find more friends to go with him to the volleyball matches because of how the Cougars have played.

“I have a lot more friends that are interested in going with me to the games because our volleyball team is ranked higher,” Hyoung said. “The team is doing really well right now, and I like cheering really loudly for our team, which is kicking butt. I like the intensity that our team always plays with.”

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