SPORTS

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October 6, 2009

Field Notes: Volleyball shows growth in tough UAA

Volleyball teams from the far-flung reaches of the UAA packed into Rochester’s Palestra Arena this weekend, as the Yellowjackets played host to 2009’s first ound robin event.

Twice each fall, teams from the conference’s eight schools gather in a single location to play three or four matches against other UAA teams. Over the two round robin weekends—the next is October 17 and 18—Chicago (13–9, 1–2 UAA) will play all seven UAA teams; this weekend, they had third-ranked Emory (18–2, 3–0), NYU (16–5, 1–2), and Carnegie (10–8, 1–2) on the docket.

It’s almost comical how good the UAA is at volleyball. Emory is the defending national champion, Wash U won it all in 2007 (and has nine national championships all-time), both teams are ranked in the top five this season, and the Eagles returned two of the three all-Americans that led them to last year’s title. So while the Maroons hoped to do better, it wasn’t a shock when Emory downed them in straight sets on Saturday.

That level of competition isn’t new for the Maroons, who have twice played UW–Oshkosh (22–0), the top-ranked team in last Tuesday’s AVCA poll.

“Although the scoreboard may not reflect it, we were prepared to face teams of the caliber we saw this weekend,” first-year middle blocker Katie Trela said.

That preparation was more apparent Sunday, when Chicago bumped, set, and spiked NYU 3–1 in what Trela said was the Maroons’ “best match to date against a solid opponent.”

Chicago closed the weekend with a five-set loss to Carnegie, but with that narrow miss and the win over NYU, the Maroons seemed to have returned from Rochester encouraged.

“The progress is there. The skills are there,” second-year Isis Smalls said. “Now it’s just time for us to step up our consistency in our play and in our morale and use the tools we’ve been given to finish these games with a win.”

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I like to think of last Friday’s 2016 Olympics announcement as a learning experience. First, now we all know what it must look like when a person takes a sucker punch straight to the gut. Rarely does an event generate so vivid a pictorial record of devastating surprise as did the announcement that Chicago was eliminated in the first round of voting, and the images published in the hours that followed ran the gamut from heart-rending (stunned Chicagoans in Daley Plaza) to really pretty funny (the video from Chicago 2016 headquarters in Copenhagen, where business leaders who stood to profit from the Games had gathered for hors d’oeurves and cocktails, their city’s massive financial exposure be damned).

Lesson two didn’t strike me until sometime later, in the daze that followed the announcement. As a sports fan, the prospect of the Summer Games in my neighborhood was enough to make me overlook any policy problems involved, and each analyst that told me Chicago was the favorite had gotten me more excited.

I felt lied to. Those analysts had columns online, in print, even shows on television—Television, that wonderful medium that has for two decades given me so much! How could the analysts get it wrong?

Well, if you think about—as I and a good many other Chicagoans chose not to—the idea of an International Olympic Committee (IOC) analyst or expert is absurd. The IOC has a fluid membership that rarely meets and closely guards its records. That anyone would go on national TV and claim to be an IOC expert only further diminishes their credibility.

Besides that, what we knew for certain was that Rio was the sentimental favorite, and that last summer, the IOC graded the Madrid and Tokyo bids higher than Chicago’s. Since the U.S. Olympic Committee dumped its members willing to trade ski trips for the Olympic Games after locking up Salt Lake 2002, where exactly was the Chicago bid getting its strength?

It was hype, plain and simple—sub-prime loans, Ohio State football circa 2007, and Pets.com rolled together. I should have known. And while I call it a lesson learned, I know it’ll be a lesson gladly unlearned when the next sure thing comes my way.