Volleyball at Ohio University

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My Annual First Post

At the start of each season I repost the first little essay I wrote for this website, coming up to a decade ago. It still applies, I feel–and even though it won’t be a Tachikara SV5W I’ll be playing with tomorrow, I’ll be glad to be setting the ball again after a summer of work and travels.

The Feel of the Ball

The way it fits between your hands, the texture of it, the faint give under pressure, the perfect balance with which it rises into the air after you set it. For pure sensuous pleasure in sport, there is nothing like the feel of a volleyball.

That’s what drew me to the game years ago: how right the ball felt. And that first one was a mangy old street ball in New York City’s Washington Square Park. Later, in a gym in Yellow Springs, Ohio, I got hold of my first Tachikara SV5W. Now there’s a ball. When I die, that’s the one you can lace my fingers around as you slip me into the earth. The OU team, I have to admit, plays mainly with Moltens these days, which along with Badens have been horning in on the market once dominated by Tachikara. No matter, when it comes to my ultimate rest, make it the SV5W.

Other sports offer utilitarian, sometimes curious balls:

-The Little League baseball I played with when I was ten. I admit that it’s a handsome little nugget of a ball, with its infinite stitching pattern—but it’s nothing to cozy up with. Designed for violent contact with oak or hickory, it’s best handled with a glove.

–The big pebbled basketball I played with for hours at a time when I was a kid, shooting on a hoop my father nailed to the back of our house. The surface is foreign, the texture reminiscent of the factory it was made in.

-The soccer ball, rugged and impervious, and clearly designed not to be touched. Penalty if you do.

-That jive pellet the lacrosse ball, heavy and smooth. It feels like some kind of ammo.

-I admit to the football’s aerodynamic superiority. But it’s another of those industrial balls, faintly pebbled.

-The ping pong ball, tiny, smooth and brittle—and its dense second cousin, the golf ball. We buy them by the dozen, then squash them underfoot or lose them in the rough.

–The raquetball, similar to the pink spaldeen kids used to play with on the streets of New York, perhaps still do. Bouncy and utilitarian.

-The squash ball, with its two-inch bounce, at least before you warm it up.

–The tennis ball. I love the sport so I’m fond of the ball—but after a couple of sets bring out some new ones, the first are already worn out.

Only a volleyball fits the hand so well, and has a perfect, smooth, animal texture. Of course, this is written by a setter, someone who thinks the key moment in each point is the tenth of a second when the ball enters the setter’s hands and flies out redirected. It’s all in service to the hitter, and we’d be nowhere without the crushing spike, or the salvation of a great dig. But to me it’s still the ball, and the feel of the ball, that defines the game.

I admit, here at the start, to a river of bias on every topic. But that’s what makes this a blog post instead of a news report.

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