From not caring to becoming one of its biggest fans

Postseason volleyball is one of the most exciting events there is.

And this comes from someone who didn’t even see his first match until the fall of 2003.

And even then, it was something I did as a make-good. I was a senior in college, the sports editor of the BG News. We hadn’t done a good job of covering the sport, and I went to the match to make sure we got a by-line story and a photo in before the semester ended.

Yeah, not my proudest moment.

When I arrived at Anderson Arena that night, the graduate assistant in the school’s sports information department asked me “How’d you get roped into this?”

To show you how much I knew or cared about volleyball at the time, one night when coming back from the gym, I passed the arena, and BG’s mascot Freddie Falcon came out, opened the door, and gestured me to come in.

I declined and went home.

I turned down Freddie Falcon. If anyone had found out, I’d have been expelled.

Fast forward a year.

The paper I was working at covered Ben Logan High School, which had Nicole Fawcett on its roster.

Fawcett, a 6-foot-4 daughter of a coach, was a monster with a devastating attack. She slammed a ball so hard, opposing players used to react before the attack even happened. A few times a match, Fawcett would go up for a ball, then, seeing the defense practically cower, tapped the ball, where it would fall harmlessly for a point.

Because of where Ben Logan was located, most of its districts and regionals were in the Dayton area.

This allowed me to spend time with my aunt, who lives the area. This was great, because not only did I get a chance to spend time with one of my favorite people, but she would go to matches with me.

My aunt had never seen a high school volleyball match.

So here I was, in my first year as a pro, covering someone who’d win national titles at Penn State and be named the Division I player of the year. And here was my aunt and her boyfriend, perhaps only going because someone they knew was covering the match.

And a funny thing happened:

We all got hooked.

Volleyball is wonderful for a few reasons. First off, if there is a lopsided match, it’s bound to be quick, because there is no clock. A team will get to 25 in a blowout and it’s on to the next game.

Second, since the match is racing toward a point total, it’s hard to accuse anyone of running up the score, though I wouldn’t be shocked if someone from Texas has made that complaint.

Third, momentum is so important. A team may cruise in the first two matches, but lose the third, and the team is scratching to stay out of a fifth game.

Now, throw in the the season-deciding quality of the playoffs, and you have a super-intense mix.

Watching Fawcett did help spawn my interest in the sport, but the next year, I found myself in Elida covering Old Fort in the regional tournament.

In what was perhaps the best volleyball match I have covered, Old Fort, behind Cleveland State-bound Amy Benz, took a 2-0 lead on Patrick Henry.

Then the Patriots won the next two games.

While this was going on, the respective crowds were playing a game of “can you top this?”

There were plenty of dueling chants, but then an Old Fort student – dressed like Davey Crockett without the coonskin cap – did a few backflips between games.

Not to be outdone, a Patrick Henry fan stood up and – somewhat reluctantly – started doing the robot.

Old Fort won the fifth game, and eventually advanced to the state semifinals in Dayton.

And I didn’t even have to ask: My aunt was coming with me.

Living in Tiffin for eight years has only made me enjoy volleyball more. Mohawk and Buckeye Central have went on state runs in recent years, while Heidelberg’s team has continually been a Division III powerhouse.

As I write this, I’m preparing for Columbian’s district final match against Toledo Central Catholic.

Honestly, I can’t wait for the match to start.

And, while I haven’t covered the state tournament or any volleyball match in the Dayton area for many years, my aunt still has a passion for it, often attending University of Dayton matches.

There’s nothing like volleyball.

Zach Baker is the sports editor of The Advertiser-Tribune.

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