The University College Dublin (UCD) Volleyball club is one of the oldest volleyball club in Ireland, having been up and running for over 40 years. This year, despite the restrictions brought on by Covid-19 placing an inordinate amount of pressure on indoor sports, Volleyball UCD hope to continue their strong legacy in both the women’s and men’s games.
The club participate in an intervarsity league, with the winners of the Irish intervarsities going on to represent the Irish universities in the English Student Cup in Norwich. Over the past 15 years of the intervarsity competitions, UCD have performed well in both the men’s and women’s competitions and have gone on to Norwich a number of times.
Patricia Somers, current Volleyball UCD Secretary and women’s premier team coach, mentioned that the early 2000s were the banner years for Volleyball UCD, as the women won the English Student Cup twice between 2003 and 2004, while the men’s team have won it once and made the finals on a number of other occasions.
“That competition would be very high level,” said Somers. “The colleges in the UK have grant schemes and sponsorships, full time coaches and a lot of international players, so the standard would be much higher than here. But we are able to hold our own there.”
Somers expressed that the team has been in a rebuilding phase of late as old students leave and new students file into the club. “It is very hard to keep a core every year that come back and keep the varsity team strong,” said Somers. “We have to start every year from scratch really in September or October.”
Additionally, both the women’s and the men’s teams compete in the Irish Volleyball Premier League against the top volleyball clubs in Ireland, often being able to field a second team to participate in Division 1 of the competition as well. There are a number of other competitions throughout the year in which UCD compete, meaning that they are always at the top of their game.
“The other competitions would be the Association Cup, which is open to every club, and we have won that quite a few times,” said Somers. “Our men’s team has been more successful in recent years than our women’s team, but we are always there and thereabouts; you know semi-finals stage at least.”
Much of the club is made up of inexperienced or beginner players that are new to the game and want to try something new. Since getting involved with Volleyball UCD, Somers has seen the numbers slowly increase, with more men playing than would previously be the case. The club now has around a 40-60 percent split of men to women, according to Somers.
There is an international flavour to both teams, as international students have flocked to the club, however the numbers on men from Irish schools playing volleyball has also seen an increase over the years. The club is hoping that in the near future schools in Ireland will start playing volleyball from an early age for both men and women, and that this will translate into more men playing the sport and joining Volleyball UCD.
The club is not solely focused on competitions and producing high-performance volleyball players. “Actually, the majority of our players I would say are social players,” said Somers. “They just want to come along and be part of a group, and a lot of our students that have gone through the club would have come through as beginners and stayed because of the camaraderie.”
Part of 20×20, Volleyball Ireland introduced the Developing Inspiring Volleyball Activators (DIVA) programme, which focuses on producing female leaders and increase participation in volleyball at universities. As part of DIVA, students take over running a programme that is specifically aimed at fun and recreational volleyball. UCD’s Diva, Morgan Templeton, is a vet student who has run a number of fu training sessions which have been successful in drawing more students into the social practices held by the club.
The club has already drafted their guidelines for training during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is currently awaiting approval from UCD, and Somers is confident that they will eb able to get back to some level of training when the semester begins. “As part of that we have risk-assessed new players coming in, because we are limited to the numbers that we can have in the hall,” said Somers. “It is all the normal protocols that are followed in all sports organisations.”
The club will continue their training sessions, which normally happen every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The Premier teams train two nights per week, while beginners and intermediates train one night a week each. There is often a fun, recreational game after the beginners’ practice on a Friday. All sessions are open to all players but each practice is focused on the skill levels of the players.
“We are friendly, open club,” said Somers. “We cater for anybody who may have never played volleyball before and wants to try it out… It isn’t for elite players; it is for everybody.” Students interested in joining Volleyball UCD should contact Somers through email at: [email protected]
Stephen Kisbey-Green – Co-Editor