We don’t generally traffic in volleyball highlights around here, but there’s a first time for everything. This is that time. Last night, Illinois beat USC in five sets to make its first NCAA women’s volleyball championship match ever. And the Illini advanced in style, via a match point rally that’s up there with some of the longest we’ve seen in the sport. Indeed, it was so good that SportsCenter couldn’t help but give it a shoutout (and SportsCenter, remember, doesn’t usually show much in the way of volleyball highlights either). Here’s why it got so much attention:
During the 2008 Olympics, some friends remarked that what struck them the most about watching a high-level indoor volleyball match was that, to the untrained eye, every point looked like chaos. What you see above was a heightened version of that. It’s not actually chaos, of course – so many people moving around such a small space better be really well-coordinated to pull off something like this – but it looks nuts out there.
Sometimes, too, it just comes down to making a desperation play, and to our eyes, there were several of those above. Dives, running out of frame to reach a shot and somehow keeping it playable…and all of them worked. If you’ll allow us to mix sports for a second, this was a Novak Djokovic-Rafa Nadal 2011 U.S. Open-level rally, and the fact that it came on match point with the crowd going crazy throughout takes it to another level. That, and that these players made such sense out of a sport that, for the relatively uninitiated, can look like a wild free-for-all.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how a crowd of Illinois fans reacted to the tense final moments, here you go. It’s about how you’d expect: thinking it’s about to be over approximately 20 different times, then losing it when it actually ends. Good stuff.