Volleyball Lessons

Smith Center’s Haley Feldman and Ashlyn Long tangled on a dig.

A look at photographs from the Kansas State 2A Volleyball Championship and semi-final matches reveals one of the great joys that comes from photographing the sport at any level. There is joy and comraderie like none other. My goodness, after every point won or lost, the players gather with smiles shining brightly to hug and pat each other with every expectation the next moment will be even better.

In the past, I believed some of this must be just for show. Yet, after covering KU volleyball for 23 years and now prep matches, I understand that far from being a show, such emotion is as close to purity found in sports. There certainly have been teams where some players were going through the motions, their personal concerns and issues overwhelming the joy of being a teammate, but those thankfully have been rare.

The point is I now believe there is a life lesson I have learned from covering volleyball for so long. With each point, an opportunity exists to find new joy in the game, no matter how the match’s outcome develops. That is a lesson that benefits us all. It would be nice if we all gathered for good or bad to let everyone know there is a new opportunity for all of us each day.   We all need to be teammates in the good times and the bad.

Another of volleyball’s great but harsh lessons is that the game might be the hardest of all sports to photograph well. There is so much action confined in a small area moving at lightning-quick speeds that test the reflexes and concentration of the photographer during every point. Add a complex net that can confound focus for even the most skilled, and a match can quickly become a struggle. As a result, I constantly test myself through the sport, always worried a run of poor games will signal the dread of declining skills.

At a recent match at my alma mater Washburn University, I wanted to personally photograph the Ichabod’s, then the No. 1 volleyball team on the NCAA Division II level. I struggled dreadfully. I wasn’t truly invested in the match, and my concentration flickered in and out. I was embarrassed to share the images with Washburn’s distinguished sports information director, Gene Cassell. I made sure to apologize.

My remorse takes me back to that first lesson. I needed a pat on the back and a swift kick in the butt that could only come from my incredible teammate, Laura. Another chance was coming soon. To be sure I was on point during the high school finals, Laura photographed the matches and, later that day, the Wild West Bowl six-man championship football game in Dodge City on October 30. Nothing’s better than the friendly competition between us that leads to mental focus.

The real competition between Smith Center and Ellinwood in one semi-final and Hillsboro and Garden Plain in the other led to a final where No. 1-seed Smith Center defeated No. 4-seed Hillsboro in straight sets. The Lady Red victory touched off the last volleyball lesson – volleyball players know how to celebrate.

With that in mind, we share a large gallery because Laura and I wanted you to see the skills of these athletes and let you revel in their joy. Remember, the lessons learned over time command that.

Select to view full-size photographs

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