Be a sport: From volleyball beginner to cup winner

The women's volleyball team won their National Trophy final and semi-finals without dropping a set.

Life at university is all about new experiences and taking up opportunities for the first time.

Whether that’s through study, socialising, activities or locations, there is never a shortage of ways to add a string to a bow.

This is never truer than with sports with Sussex offering the possibilities of trying out in dozens of different sports and active pastimes.

At university, students can discover a skill they never knew they had such as these members of cup-winning squads this season who have gone from novices to pros in a matter of months.

In a three-part series, we’re profiling our victorious sports teams and finding out how a step into the unknown has brought them huge personal satisfaction, new friendships and a host of fun memories.

In the final piece in the series, the spotlight is on the women’s volleyball team, who topped their league this season before clinching the National Trophy by strolling through their semi-final and final against Anglia Ruskin University and Coventry University without losing a set.

While volleyball has a relatively low profile in the UK, it is in fact the fifth most popular sport in the world - with a strong following in Brazil, China and the US.

Sussex’s squad of 17 reflects that global interest, with only one UK player and with team members from around the world.

The team’s least experienced team member is Luz María López Ruiz, a 23-year-old Phd student in genetics, originally from Andalucía in Spain. 

She said: “I had played before, although just a bit when I was at high school around seven years ago for a couple of years. However, unlike the training we do here, the level was low and we didn’t learn about the different player roles, positions or strategies.

“Over the last two summers I did a bit of beach volleyball in Spain but I felt a lot of frustration at times because of my lack of skills. When I saw that in Sussex there was a volleyball team I got really excited, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it, although my first thought was that I probably wouldn’t make it as I expected the level to be really high.

“I felt insecure and almost didn’t show up to the trials. Despite my fears I went to the trials. It was my first real volleyball training and it wasn’t easy but I tried anyway. I suppose they saw some potential in me and also that I was motivated and I had the spirit, and I am really grateful for that.

“I am a very active person, so I have always done something with my free time; I used to do some Classic and Latin dance before coming here but it was more like a hobby once or twice a week. The amount of sport I do now, since I am at Sussex, has increased a lot as we have a lot of opportunities that I didn’t have before.

“I feel that the University encourage you to do sport through social media. You can almost do every sport you want in Active US sessions. At Sussex I’ve tried basketball, yoga and even martial arts, which is something I have always wanted to do.

“I also would like to try some others and I probably will after this course; the only problem is that there’s so much to do and I have limited free time, so it is difficult to decide what to do.

“Apart from improving my fitness and skills and learning a great deal of stuff about volleyball I didn’t know before, I think that the best part is the relationship with the other members of the team. The atmosphere is really cool and healthy, and we do things together quite a lot, they are really funny. My life in Sussex would be really different without them.

“Personally, I think that determination, perseverance, motivation and a positive spirit is really helpful for people thinking about giving the sport a go. Obviously you need some basic skills to get into the team, but skills aren’t everything. If you really want to do it, go for it! Train hard, have a positive mind and follow your dream."

Captain Fanny Weicherding, a third-year sociology and media studies student, said: “Most of the team have played volleyball before coming to university for at least a few years, but we try to work together closely with Active Us to encourage players who are less experience to build up skills to a level where they can take part in team training.

“Volleyball is not very popular in England, which has benefits and downsides to it. As for our team of the 17 players I had this season, only one was English, but the upside is that there might not be as many people to compete with for a spot on the team as in more popular sports.

“I think the main attraction to volleyball is its team spirit; you absolutely cannot play without working as a team, since you can only touch a ball once at a time. It builds trust among people, it's a very vocal and communicative sport.

“Often, more experienced players step up to help out and guide the newer members during training and on court, which helps them build confidence and gain experience. As a team, you are only as strong as your weakest member and, in volleyball, I find this means we push our less experienced members to improve significantly.

“Being very close to each other on a small court means you can actively advise and help each other out and the better this communication, the better the team performance.”

For more information on the women’s volleyball team visit here or for more information on getting active at Sussex visit here.

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By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Thursday, 3 May 2018