Friday night's Vlog, it's rare that I get so emotionally-invested in a sporting event or team that falls outside of my own participation. But the MUN Women's Volleyball team has grabbed my heart this year and I have rode along side of them all season through the ups and downs.
I first took a liking to this team and this sport way back in the 2007-08 season, as I discovered this team existed and that they played their home games at the local Fieldhouse as I often spent time over at that facility using the swimming pool, when I was swimming as part of my cross-training for my marathon training program. Since then, I have been a regular on the sidelines at most home games watching and cheering on. Through the magic of social media, I have also gotten a chance to get to know many of the players personally, and peak into their daily lives.
While I must admit, I was not in the stands as much since I gave up swimming in 2010, I was back in my seat on a regular basis this year, as I felt an extra urge to be supportive this season, after the year got off to a horrible start with an off-season tragedy, the untimely accidental death of team captain Erin Bursey, as she was hit by a car. This tragedy brought the team, and perhaps the entire St. John's athletics community, together, as the Fieldhouse was full on June 30 for her public funeral.
Perhaps not to be surprising, the team got off to a bit of a rough start, dropping 7 of their first 9 games, mostly road games. This lead to a highly critical article in our local newspaper, the Telegram. While a critical article might have been fair, the wording and commentary was especially harsh to the point that I was extremely upset. I decided to step up to the plate and launched a public letter to the editor, which they eventually published in its entirety. My letter suggested that we give this team some love and come together as a city to be supportive and encouraging, as they still had a playoff run ahead, and that there's more to sports at the university level than wins and losses.
The article published in a weekend edition of the paper, and was read by the entire volleyball team, as news broke of my article while players were reading the paper while on an airplane to a weekend road trip. While the article was 100% genuinely written out of love and respect for the players on the team, it also helped to raise my public profile as a credible and sympathetic supporter of the team, and as someone who gets the true value of sports participation.
After my article published, the team would see some improved play, going 3-2 until dropping 2 games to the #2 ranked St. Mary's Huskies to finish the regular season. MUN was robbed of the opportunity to pad their stats against a woeful Acadia team, when their final 2 home games were cancelled due to Acadia's inability to travel due to a snow storm. Oh well, I'm sure MUN welcomed the extra rest as there were a few players nursing injuries.
Although MUN was guaranteed a playoff spot in the AUS tournament, due to the fact that they were the host team (the first time MUN had ever hosted this conference championship), they earned their 6th seed by virtue of their win loss record. Their draw looked favourable, as although ranked 6th, they'd have to play #3 seed Moncton, the Aigles-Bleu came into this game on a 5 game losing streak. A win over Moncton would see MUN playing #2 ranked St. Mary's, rather than #1 ranked Dalhousie. Given how well MUN played against St. Mary's in the season finale, there seemed to be a good chance that MUN could pull two upsets and get themselves into the finals.
Well, as reported on my vlog, MUN won a spirited bought vs Moncton and moved on to the Semi Finals. As a somewhat superstitious athlete, I made sure I bought a ticket to sit in exactly the same seat as I had for the quarter final game - a front row seat right behind the MUN bench. The girls arrived at the arena about 2 hours before game time and actually grabbed the seats beside me to watch some of the other semi final, before heading into the dressing room to get ready.
When it was game on, MUN came out to a fast start, much like they did the night before, winning the first set 25-16 of a St. Mary's team that came out a little flat. Chantel Jones and Angela Peddle were unstoppable as a wall up front, scoring many key blocks for points. Sam March, playing with a huge knee brace due to torn meniscus, still managed some huge spike kills. Lauren Miller also played extremely well.
The next few sets were barn-burners, with teams going back and forth on mini runs. St. Mary's seemed to steal the momentum winning the 2nd set, and then taking a critical 3rd set 31-29. You could tell MUN's spirit was a little shaken but they still gave it all they had, though ultimately falling in the 4th set. An appreciative crowd cheered them off the court though, as tears were flowing from many of the players and fans, including me, who simply could not contain my emotions.
5th year senior Chantel, who had just played her final game, was quite emotional too. Shortly after she walked off the court, I was among many who gave her a big hug and told her how awesome she was. She's an awesome athlete and seems to be an amazing person. I also had a big hug and words of encouragement for Angela and Lauren, who are also amazing leaders who I know will make this team a top contender next season. I also had an embrace for some of the other key die-hard fans, the athletic director for MUN, and former MUN athlete turned statistics keeper, Krista Parsons.
It was a very tough walk home for me and a very emotional evening. I keep questioning myself as to why I have gotten so emotionally attached to this team. Ultimately, I don't really know, but I have enjoyed the ride. Being a sports fan can be a great distraction for life's problems. For this weekend in particular, I got to park all of my problems and simply be a sports fan. I didn't have to be Jennifer the transsexual activist, Jennifer the aspiring politician, Jennifer the injured marathon runner, Jennifer the frustrated underemployed person, or anything else. While I still may have stood out like a bit of a sore thumb, I felt accepted as simply part of the crowd and one of the fans.
Well, now I turn my attention back to my own athletic goals. Although dealing with some injuries, I have still managed to run more in the past 6 weeks than any other 6 week period in quite a while. I have dropped 7 pounds in 2013, and had an awesome 22k run two weekends ago. MUN volleyball inspired me, so now, I hope I can inspire myself and inspire them right back - as I attempt to somehow get myself back into marathon shape and search for that elusive Boston Marathon qualification run, so I may realize my dream and return to Hopkinton to start the 2014 Boston Marathon.
(depicted in the photo, is MUN shortly before starting the Semi Final game).