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Old Gold & Black

Old Gold & Black

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Volleyball: America’s favorite forgotten sport

Wofford volleyball competes against UNCG on Oct. 8. Terrier volleyball is popular with students and spectators from the community, and has generated a love for the game that extends beyond campus. Photo by Anna Lee Hoffman

How the game is leaving an impact at Wofford and beyond

A 2017 Gallup poll asked 1049 Americans about their favorite sports to watch; the results were hardly surprising. American football stood tall at 37% of those polled naming it their favorite sport to watch, and, despite the fact that this number has been on the decline since 2007, there remained a substantial gap between football and “the rest.”

Basketball clocked in at 11%, baseball at 9%, soccer 7%, ice hockey 4% and auto racing and tennis collected 2% each. In ninth place, the great Brazilian pastime of volleyball is among the “one percents.” 

Calling it their national pastime is a bit of a misnomer – the country’s official national game is, unsurprisingly, soccer – but volleyball is considerably more popular there than in the United States. 

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As a matter of fact, Brazil is not alone in its appreciation of the sport. Other countries, such as Italy, Russia, Poland and Turkey all have respected and well-attended professional volleyball leagues. 

An AP News article from March of this year highlighted the upcoming second season of an American player-run professional volleyball league organized by Athletes Unlimited. The league focuses on individual stats over team performance and is the only semblance of a professional volleyball league in the United States. 

“We have been the only top volleyball country in the world without our own professional league,” said U.S. women’s national team head coach Karch Kiraly, who in his own career was a two-time gold medalist for the men’s national team and was a standout and 3x national champion at UCLA.  

The fact that there is no actual pro league in the U.S. may be surprising to some, given the popularity of volleyball on college campuses, and the competitive nature of the high school and club circuit. At Wofford, volleyball means a lot to not just the players and coaches, but also to the spectators; particularly, the students who attend the matches. 

“During my time at Wofford, I loved going to the sporting events, but volleyball may be my favorite to go watch,” said Drew Copeland ‘19. “The atmosphere in the volleyball gym in Richardson was set up to have an incredible fan section. The fans were right there on the court, essentially.”

Copeland was one of a number of students at the time known for organizing “The Boneyard,” an unofficial collective of uber-passionate Wofford students who made their presence known at a number of sporting events, chiefly basketball and volleyball.

The feeling between student-spectators and student-athletes is mutual, “Wofford volleyball is such a special program and part of what made it so great was seeing the faces of your classmates in the (Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium),” said Wofford volleyball alum Catie Cronister ‘20. “I think fans mean more at Wofford since they’re your peers. You go to class together, and they come to support you as more than a student athlete since they really know you!”

Cronister also added that she especially enjoyed seeing professors attend games to support the students they taught in the classroom on the court.

The Terriers are off to an 8-10 (2-4 SoCon) start this season. Prior to a pair of parents’ weekend matchups, head coach Lynze Roos discussed the team’s preparative strategy.

“With UNCG, we are going to see a grad transfer who can move the ball around a lot and challenge us defensively,” said Roos. “We need to stay disciplined and aggressive in those moments. With WCU, they are balanced and have an elite libero. We need to work to score points on them and minimize their runs.”

The Terriers suffered a sweep at the hands of the Spartans, but the contest against the Catamounts yielded more favorable results, a 3-1 victory. Kennedy Smith ‘23 totaled 17 kills over the weekend, leading the Terriers. 

In addition to Smith, Wofford is anchored by veteran leadership from the likes of Meghan Yaffa ‘22, a redshirt junior, as well as expanded roles for sophomores Millie Loehr ‘24, Sarah Barham ‘24 and VCU transfer Addison Foote ‘24. 

Roos lauded Foote’s passing and defending abilities, as well as Yaffa and Barham’s offensive presence at the net. Yaffa leads the team in kills with 177, followed by Barham with 150 and Foote with 119. 

The value of an electric home atmosphere is not lost on Roos: “Our home court is one of the toughest places to compete in the SoCon for road teams. Having energy and fans in the stands helps our team take pride in being a Wofford Terrier. The student support in our gym has always been impressive – I think we have some of the very best crowds in the league. We hope to keep it packed this (Oct. 8-10) weekend and use the crowd to our advantage!”

The passion for volleyball that starts at Wofford goes beyond: after graduating, Copeland took a job teaching social studies at Dorman High School in Roebuck, SC, where he also serves as the head coach for the boys volleyball team and an assistant coach for the girls varsity team. 

“I am still in shock today that doing something for fun like playing volleyball and supporting Wofford’s team would lead me to something I truly love and feel like I’m called to do,” said Copeland. 

“I will forever be grateful to Wofford’s volleyball team for teaching me the game and Coach (Paula) Kirkland for giving me a chance to coach a sport that I love, especially at a school with a program that has won multiple state titles,” Copeland said in reference to his current position at Dorman. 

Cronister echoed the sentiment of gratitude: “Wofford volleyball in general just has all of my heart. I grew so much in my four years in the program. Lynze Roos is one of my favorite people on the planet and I still am best friends with our libero Taylor Gill.”

Copeland also credited Gill ‘19 for teaching him and getting him invested in the game. 

With the Terriers vying for a Southern Conference title this year, it is clear the Wofford community, both student-spectators, student-athletes and fans from the community alike are excited to see the team back in action. The game may not harness multi-million dollar TV deals on a regular basis, but it is no less important to its many fans from Spartanburg, SC to across the globe. 

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