Thursday, May 26, 2011

Media Coverage of Volleyball

by David Portney

“20-25. 25-20, 25-19, 22-25, 25-9”

What’s wrong with this score? Either the winning squad was not satisfied with the 15th and final point of the final set and continued to keep playing, or this was simply an error.

This score was reported in an actual newspaper, and in my mind, epitomizes mainstream media coverage of the sport of volleyball. I’m not here to kill the newspaper that printed the score; after all, it could have been a simple typo or a misprint, but considering the importance of this particular match I couldn’t help but shake my head.

I’m not saying everyone does a poor job of covering the sport. There are a TON of great members of the media out there who work their tails off to promote the game. That also includes the SID’s, but in order for volleyball to grow into the main stream, the media separate from the respective schools has to play the prominent role.

But instead of sitting on our (the AVCA and the rest of the volleyball community) hands and complaining about it, I say we take a more proactive approach and do something about it.

So today is part one of a three-part blog highlighting six major questions you have to answer before you make pitches to the media to cover your program.

Before I get to the questions, I think it’s important for me to briefly rundown my background. I graduated from Ithaca College with a B.S. in Sport Media, and have since had a stint with two minor league baseball teams: the Tri-City ValleyCats in Albany, NY and the Memphis Redbirds in Memphis, TN. Sandwiched between those minor league experiences was a stint with the New York Giants. In those positions, I worked tirelessly with the media on the coverage of our team. It was my job to get them there, and once they show up, make sure they come back. Without further adieu, the six questions:

1) What sells?

2) What’s the best method to pitch an idea?

3) How do we establish a constant presence in the media industry?

4) Who are my local media outlets?

5) What kind of a team do I have?

This leads to…

6) So we have some media coverage, now what?

What sells?

If you’re a coach, this part might involve swallowing your pride. Instead of wanting to focus on a very volleyball-centered story, it’s important to sell something the average sports fan can understand and appreciate. For example, instead of telling reporters that player x leads the conference in kills, talk about how that player spends one day a week volunteering at the nursing home and is an aspiring chemist or has another interesting hobby or talent. The fact he or she is having a tremendous year on the court will be what ties the story together. Think big picture and off the court, so then once they’re lured in with an interesting feature idea it can tie into on-court issues. Once you have them, then the volleyball education process begins.

This is a great example of AVCA DIII All-American Ellis Walsh from Nazareth College…

As far as promoting your squad as a whole to bring media coverage of a match, unfortunately there is no magic secret. However, what works best is having a winning team. That’s something everyone can relate to and rally around regardless of the sport.

If your squad is 5-18 you will definitely be fighting an up-hill battle for coverage, so that makes it even more important to focus on the players’ back stories.

So the bottom line is to think backwards. It’s not as much about what they’re doing on the court as much as what they’re doing off the court.

Let’s use this as a line of communication to discuss what has worked and what hasn’t. Feel free to post a comment on this blog to share the wealth of knowledge!

Stay tuned next week as I’ll talk about the next two questions!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

2011 DI-II Men's Season Recap

by David Portney

Another season has come and gone with a champion earning a crown for the first time in their program’s history. Another season that pits a select few to win it all, but at the end of the day it ends up not being any of them. Another season with enough twists and turns to further validate that there is no such thing as a given.

The University of Southern California headed into the season as the preseason favorite, and came out firing right out of the gate winning their first six matches while dropping just one total set. Pepperdine broke up their winning streak with a four-set win, but the Trojans proceeded to rattle off another winning streak, this time of the 12 match variety.

While the men of Troy were slicing through the MPSF like Swiss cheese, one team based in Columbus, Ohio was quietly (at least to the west coasters it was) putting together a strong season. After a pair of losses to Pepperdine to open the season, OSU didn’t suffer another “L” until March 24th at UC San Diego, a streak spanning 17 matches. It appeared they were headed straight to the Final Four representing the MIVA.

The only question with the Buckeyes was if they could beat the teams in the toughest Men’s DI-DII conference in the country, the MPSF. They went 1-4 in the regular season against them, with the lone win coming against un-ranked Cal State Northridge. No matter the struggles, every Buckeye knew in order to win the championship they’d have to go through an MPSF team.

USC wasn’t the only team out west threatening to make a run to the Final Four and beyond. The Cougars of BYU, preseason No. 5, climbed to the No. 2 spot in the AVCA Top-15 Coaches Poll on Feb. 7th and held that spot for 10 of the next 11 weeks. It is widely believed that they have the toughest home venue to play as a visitor in the nation, and they also had the ability to hit the road to pull out a win.

Heading to the east coast, Penn State was the undisputed beast of the EIVA while also hosting the DI-II National Championship Semifinals and the Championship match. However, similar to Ohio State, there were doubts that PSU can beat an MPSF team when it really counted. During the regular season, they went 2-3 vs. MPSF opponents, but one of those wins came against UC Santa Barbara.

Speaking of those Gauchos, they entered the MPSF Tournament ranked seventh in the country without much hype and fanfare. Their first round match came against No. 2 BYU in Provo, Utah, where the Cougars didn’t lose a single match all season long. UCSB didn’t let that phase them, knocking off BYU in four sets.

From there they traveled to the home of the USC Trojans, the Galen Center, for the MPSF Semifinals. Still the underdogs, they went on to defeat No. 3 Long Beach State in four before facing USC in the finals. With the Gauchos figuring the only shot they had at making the Final Four was to win the conference tournament, the Trojans were the last team standing in their way. With that attitude and AVCA All-American Jeff Menzel going off, UCSB upset No. 1 USC in a five-set thriller. However, the only thing USC lost was a little confidence as they were picked as at the at-large bid and the No. 1 seed anyway.

The Final Four this year was more wide open than in the past. Why? The No. 1 team in the nation just lost to UCSB in the conference finals, UCSB themselves was still the classic underdog story, Penn State had a strong year and was the host school…then there’s Ohio State.

The Buckeyes took care of Penn State in front of a crazy Nittany Lions crowd in four sets while UCSB and USC were paired up for a rematch of the two MPSF schools. The Trojans didn’t look sharp and the Gauchos had three players with double-digit kills to once again defeat USC to meet up with Ohio State for the NCAA Championship.

I think we all know how that match turned out, but in case you’ve been living in a women’s volleyball cocoon, the Buckeyes came out the victors in five sets to win their program’s first ever national championship.

What a season. A big thanks to all of the fans, players, coaches, SID’s and AD’s, media and anyone else who helped make this year one of the best ever. Without everyone working together to help promote the game to not only make it what it is today, but to continue its growth, none of this would be possible!

Make sure you check back next week as I’ll discuss media coverage of volleyball and my theories on how to make it better.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Buckeyes are National Champs!

by David Portney

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t have to be. The Ohio State Buckeyes took the DI-II Men’s Championship with a five-set win over UC Santa Barbara (20-25, 25-20, 25-19, 22-25, 15-9).

They were able to overcome 26 serving errors to become just the third team west of the Rocky Mountains to win the title – Penn St. won it in 1994 and 2008. So how were they able to overcome the over one set’s worth of points they just gave the Gauchos? Well, when they were able to put the ball in play they took advantage of their opportunities. The Buckeyes had four players with double-digit kills led by Shawn Sangrey with 30 on 54 attempts for a .389 hitting percentage. Also not to be overlooked was setter Steven Kehoe, who had 65 assists.

It was a valiant effort by the Gauchos in their run to the NCAA Championship Match. After defeating #1 USC in both the MPSF Finals and the NCAA Semifinals, they took OSU the distance despite AVCA All-American Jeff Menzel only accounting for 12 of the team’s 45 kills.

But it was still an extremely exciting match to watch. The combination of power and athleticism these athletes have are unlike anything sports fans see on a regular basis. It would have been nice to see a bit cleaner match, but there was plenty of drama with it going to five sets to more than make up for it.

Host Penn State put on a fantastic weekend hosting a USA Volleyball scrimmage and high school boys tournament in addition to the Men’s Final Four. I wanted to make sure I sent out congratulations to them because they put on an excellent event that everyone who attended won’t soon forget.

And once again, congrats to Ohio State on their first-ever men’s volleyball championship! All of the talk was about not if the championship would come out of the MPSF, but how easily they would do it. Instead, the Midwest team came in and showed the California boys how it’s done in 2011.

Because the men’s season is now over, that doesn’t mean this blog will go on hiatus until the women’s season picks up in August. Keep it here for the men’s end of season recap, and another blog dedicated to media coverage of the men’s vball season and much more!

Great season everyone!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Cinderella Men

by David Portney

How 'bout them Gauchos? First they strut into Utah and hand then-No. 2 BYU their first home loss of the season in the MPSF Quarterfinals. Then they have the nerve to waltz into the Galen Center and knock off No. 1 USC in five sets to advance to the Final Four...who do they think they are?

I'm not going to give all of the nitty-gritty details and all of the stats from the match, but if you want to check those out click here:

If you weren't there in-person or didn't watch it online, boy did you miss a fantastic match. The Gauchos were playing for their season because they most likely would not have received the at-large bid that ultimately went to the Trojans. Even though it was a forgone conclusion USC would receive the at-large bid if they didn't win the tournament, by no means did they play like they had that security blanket. They wanted to head into the Final Four without the "at-large" stigma and have another MPSF title under their belt.

While it was a well-played match between two elite teams, one player certainly stood out among the rest. AVCA All-American Jeff Menzel (right) put the Gauchos on his shoulders nailing 28 kills in 53 attempts for a .396 hitting percentage.

The four teams heading to Penn State for the Final Four according to their seeds:
1) USC
2) Penn State
3) Ohio State
4) UC Santa Barbara

That's right, USC doesn't have to wait long for a rematch with their SoCal rivals...just four days to be exact on Thursday. All three matches this weekend will be broadcast LIVE on ESPN2 and ESPN3 with the USC-UCSB match kicking off the weekend at 7PM ET. PSU and OSU will match up at the conclusion of that match at approximately 9PM ET.

The championship match will be on Saturday (May 7) at 4 p.m. PT.

We will be live-tweeting (follow us @avcavolleyball) all three matches with facebook posts as well, full of photos and on-site updates from the crack AVCA staff!