Editor’s note: UCLA men’s volleyball player Steve O’Dell is writing a biweekly guest column pertaining to his experiences as a Division I student-athlete. Every other Wednesday, the Daily Bruin will run a perspective piece from O’Dell focusing on a facet of his experience at UCLA.
With less than two weeks of training, our team hopped on a charter bus and drove to Santa Barbara for a season-opening tournament on Jan. 9 where we were scheduled to play St. Francis College, Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne and Limestone College. The most daunting part of the trip was how quickly the matches occurred; we played three games in two days. Think of it like having a midterm on Thursday, and then two on Friday – not easy. Thankfully, we came away with three precious wins.
The following weekend, we traveled to Provo, Utah to take on Brigham Young University for our first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation matchup of the season. Playing volleyball in Provo is no easy task. UCLA has not won a game there since 2009. However, this year we were determined to change that.
When the team starts to travel, the athletic challenges often come head to head with academic ones. We were scheduled to leave UCLA around 10 a.m. Thursday. I had to reschedule a quiz originally supposed to take place at 2 p.m. to immediately after my discussion, which ended at 9:50 a.m. I finished as fast as I could, and sprinted from Haines Hall down to the Ackerman Turnaround just in time to catch our bus to Los Angeles International Airport.
Shortly after checking into our hotel in Provo, we hopped back on the bus for our first practice at BYU’s legendary Smith Fieldhouse. After practice, we closed out the night watching video together as a team.
The next morning we ate breakfast, watched some more video and went back to the Fieldhouse for “serve and pass,” basically a light practice and walk-through in preparation for the match. When practice ended, we went back to the hotel to study, take naps and get mentally prepared for the match.
Having won 27 straight home matches, BYU is undoubtedly the toughest place to play in our conference. There are three major factors that contribute to BYU’s home-court advantage, which has undoubtedly helped to facilitate this incredible winning streak.
First, the elevation: playing at nearly 5,000 feet above sea level causes the ball to travel further than it would normally. Secondly, BYU packs the Fieldhouse with some of the wildest – in the best way possible – fans in the conference. We played in front of nearly 5,000 screaming fans. Lastly, the BYU team is hands down a tough team. The Cougars are physical and well-coached. We understood the challenges ahead and thought we had a good chance at coming away with two wins.
The first night we got crushed. We lost the first set 25-12, the second 25-17 and the third 25-17. It was the worst loss most guys on our team had ever experienced. The next morning we watched the match as a team – it was rough. We made a lot of mistakes and did not execute well. Personally, I felt dejected. I was one of the veterans on the floor and I couldn’t get it done.
The younger guys needed me to step it up, and I failed.
We came in the second night determined not to have a repeat performance. We know we have a good team, and we didn’t want to leave Provo with a bad taste in our mouths. As the second match began, we jumped out to a big lead early and executed well on many of our failings from the first night. We won the first set handily, 25-17. In the second set, BYU stormed back; it was a battle from the first point to the last. Unfortunately, we came up short, losing in a deuce set, 26-24. As the match continued, BYU slowly overpowered us; we lost the next two sets, 25-20 and 25-15, and eventually the match.
Our record for the weekend stands at 0-2. If you were to ask anyone on our team if he was sad or disappointed, the answer would be yes. But it doesn’t mean that those games will define who we are or how we will play in the future.
As John Wooden famously said, “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
We did our best, we fought adversity, we learned, we grew together as a team. That is success. Although we may have lost those two matches, I am proud of our team. I am proud of our progress and I know, that in the end, we are going to be just fine.