It has been an exciting and demanding season for the Oxford University Volleyball Team this winter. Both the men’s and the women’s teams compete in the BUCS in addition to the Varsity Match, with both teams also fielding an NVL team and a second squad each, making it one of the most popular sports in Oxford by team. Although there is considerable overlap between the Blues and the NVL squads, the NVL’s rules allow for the addition of post-doctorate students and alumni, making volleyball also one of the most age-diverse sports at the University.
When considering what fosters popularity, success is usually one of the most prominent reasons, and this certainly holds true for the Volleyball Blues. The men’s 1st team have had a fantastic season, climbing to the top of the BUCS rankings with an undefeated season. Their most recent victories, a decisive 3-0 shutout over Warwick and a 3-1 victory over third place Loughborough show the dominant offense that the team has been able to build. When asked what led to such an advantage over other divisional competitors, captain Stefan Nekovar observed that having such a large team-17 members-from which to field an on court offense gave Oxford great depth and a variety of strengths. The payoff has obviously been tremendous.
The women’s team has also had a solid season, currently ranking third in the BUCS. Although the season started disappointingly, the Blues bounced back strong with back to back victories, including a 3-0 victory over King’s College London. Although the record shows them at .500, such a strong defensive showing promises more fantastic matches in the near future.
Rivals Cambridge compete with both Blues teams in the annual Varsity Match, held this year on February 20th. Prior to the 2014-2015 season, the Oxford men’s team had gone four years without a win; however, last year the curse was finally broken and the trophy has returned to its rightful home. Even better, the team are heavy favorites to win again this season, given their outstanding record. The Oxford women’s Blues are also defending champions, and are looking to increase their victory streak over last place Cambridge, who just recently concluded their sixth straight loss. Given such matchups, Oxford are a clear bet for this season’s game.
The NVL teams have also had great success this year, with the women’s team standing undefeated in Division 1 more than halfway through the season. With the exception of one particularly tense match between Oxford and Herts VC, the women’s NVL have secured shutout victories in every game they’ve played. The men’s NVL, who compete in Division 3, started the season with an unfortunate but close loss versus New Forest but quickly bounced back to claim victories over Cardiff and Bristol.
Aside from its inclusivity and popularity-new and inexperienced students are encouraged to try out for NVL teams with a free first training session-the volleyball team captains also attribute the team’s recent successes to the dedication and training that their athletes demonstrate every week. Training sessions run two hours on weekdays and three hours on weekends, interspersed with long weekend tournaments. Volleyball is one of the most match-intensive sports, with triangulars or games taking place almost every weekend and sometimes on back to back days. This kind of schedule can be exhausting, but several team members cited the competition-heavy schedule as one of their favourite things about the sport, pointing out that the best practice comes not just from drills and conditioning, but also gameday situations. One women’s NVL member said that there is very little that matches the excitement that comes from playing in real time, and that the best way to prepare is just to play as much as possible.
The teams are certainly set up for a challenging and competitive end to the season. The championships don’t end with Varsity; the teams will also be competing in the BUCS trophy tournament. Weekly knockout rounds begin on the seventeenth, the same week as the Varsity Match, and continue into the first weekend in March for what promises to be an intense few weeks for the volleyball squads. Given such excellent showings across the board, the players and their fans are excited about their continuing to dominate on the court.