Building chemistry is a necessary part of success in all sports and the men’s volleyball club is no different. In trying to grow a sport that is, in their view, not adequately represented for men in southern states, they place great value on building lasting friendships with their teammates.
“Even growing up there aren’t a lot of volleyball opportunities in the southern United States,” senior player Mario Antonio Porras said. “Especially in Texas, it’s like, guys play football and basketball, girls play volleyball.”
Porras feels that men’s volleyball should be better represented in Texas, and sees models for this across the country.
“In northern states, the east coast and west coast, there’s men’s volleyball in high school and clubs growing up,” Porras said. “I don’t know why that hasn’t changed [in Texas]. Hopefully, it’ll change soon.”
The men’s volleyball club competes in the Southern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association, or SIVA, competing in various tournaments throughout the year against teams like Baylor, Texas A&M and Texas Tech, among others. The majority of their season takes place in the spring, culminating in a national tournament every April which will take place in Kansas City, Missouri, this year April 9-11.
This sport’s competitiveness, especially in the nationals, was evident to the team last year as they went 1-6 at the national tourney, losing close matches to Syracuse, Grand Valley State and San Jose State during the three-day tournament.
“When people think about club, they think of intramurals,” senior club president Tai Tran said. “The competition level is a lot higher [than intramurals], especially when you go to nationals.”
Given just how fierce the competition can be, the team feels that having great chemistry with one another cannot be undervalued and is something they are actively trying to improve within the team.
“It’s starting to become more of a brotherhood,” Tran said. “It’s more than just a ball and the net. It’s a team.”
Developing this chemistry can only come through learning each other’s tendencies on the court, which is why the team valued playing in a tournament at Texas A&M on Feb. 8.
“It was way better than the first tournament,” Porras said. “The week before was our first tournament of the season, just seeing where we’re all at and trying new things. We finally established who’s better at what position and it automatically looked better … I felt more of a team there. I feel like the first time we were super nervous … but then this past weekend, we really did improve and we trusted each other more. We all stepped up as leaders.”
The responsibility and the stress that comes with it, are felt by all the players with the pressure to perform well and getting caught up in their mistakes on the court.
This pressure can be compounded even further given volleyball’s intense gameplay, that can last for prolonged periods of time, making it harder to think as players’ minds fatigue.
“At some points, it lasts like a good minute just going back and forth,” Porras said. “You have to keep going, you have to stay mentally strong, you have to anticipate what they’re gonna do.”
When these situations don’t work out how the team would like, it can be easy for players to hang their heads and dwell on their mistakes.
“Positivity, that’s definitely one of our biggest challenges … I like to make sure that we’re always encouraging each other, never putting each other down,” assistant coach Erikka Fuhr said. “Making sure that we never get down on ourselves, that we’re always able to turn on that switch in our brain that’s like ‘Hey, this is go time. We gotta be competitive.’”
Featured Image: UNT men’s volleyball team practices returning serves on Feb. 11, 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas