SPORTS

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November 7, 2008

Volleyball has chance to not leave fans waiting till next year

“Wait till next year.”

As a Cubs fan, it’s a phrase that hurts my soul every time I hear it. It’s the Cubs’ perennial “get out of jail free” card. No matter how many times or in how egregious a fashion they have wronged their fans with horrible play or monumental collapses, they can just pull it out, pass go, and collect hundreds of millions of dollars from fans that do wait till next year.

Most years, it’s a joke. “Wait till next year,” as in, “we don’t actually know how to play baseball right now, so come back when we do.” Obviously this season’s “wait till next year” hurts more than most.

But whether the team gets knocked out of contention by May or just doesn’t quite reach the brass ring, the idea that next year is always less than 12 months away is comforting, if only after hours of crying and rocking back and forth in the corner.

It’s one of my favorite parts of watching sports. There is and always will be a second chance. Maybe not in the sense that the same exact team will get another shot at winning the same exact game, but the end of one season always means the beginning of a new one. Nobody has won anything yet. Nothing has been decided. And for those looking for it, redemption is just over the horizon.

This weekend, as the women’s volleyball team heads down I-55 to St. Louis, the Maroons have a chance to show exactly what redemption looks like.

The squad has mapped out its trip perfectly this season. Maybe it was last season’s 7–26 record and last place finish in the UAA, or maybe it was the arrival of head coach Vanessa Walby, or maybe it was the addition of an unprecedented nine first-years to the roster, but it seemed like this year’s group was ready to give its fans something more to believe in.

They started proving themselves from the get-go, going 6–2 in the first week of the season, all of which took place on the road. The Maroons couldn’t get a six into the win column until October 26 last season.

In the middle of what was already emerging as a quality season for Chicago, the Maroons hit a five-game winning streak in late September, the longest string of victories since a five-game streak in 2004. On September 20, they took down Elmhurst for just the fourth time since 1977. And after a last place, 1–10 finish in the UAA a season ago, the South Siders won their conference opener for the first time since 1998 with a win over NYU on October 4.

If you talk to the players, they probably won’t mention any of those feats. This isn’t a team that seeks validation; they know their talent, and they know their potential to be dangerous at this weekend’s UAA tournament.

“The turnaround is complete. That happened the first day of preseason when I saw the freshmen take the court for the first time,” fourth-year middle-hitter Katie Volzer said earlier this season. “Thanks to the freshman class as a whole and our new coaching staff, Chicago volleyball has become something to fear. The younger girls inspire and remind me each day why I love the game.”

Every year brings a new chance, and the Maroons have capitalized thus far. And while no one will question the accomplishment that goes along with jumping from seven wins one season to 18 wins with several games left the next, this is where the volleyball team’s story can jump from good to great.

By the time this hits newsstands, the Maroons could already be on the court, staring across the net at Rochester (10–20, 0–7). They could already be in the middle of their second chance.

It certainly won’t be an easy trip. They’ll need to get through top-seeded Emory tomorrow morning, and if the Maroons are to win their first UAA title in school history, they’ll need to get through reigning NCAA champion Wash U, whom Chicago has never beaten in 31 meetings.

At 3–4 in the UAA, the Maroons don’t have the record or the rankings of a powerhouse. But that doesn’t matter for this squad.

“Right now I think stats and what has happened in the past is weighing too much on our minds,” first-year outside hitter Isis Smalls said. “That stuff doesn’t matter when you get out on the court. You don’t get extra points for being higher ranked than us.”

The Maroons have the talent and attitude to come home a championship richer. For a young team like the Maroons, it might be easy to think that looking at this program’s undoubtedly bright future. I just hope this team realizes that their second chance is here.