It seems UCLA is good at any indoor sport that calls for a round ball and a net and was invented in western Massachusetts. In March the Bruins won their fourth straight NCAA basketball championship at College Park, Md. Last weekend, in their own campus arena, they won the inaugural NCAA volleyball tournament. In the final match against Cal State Long Beach, they leaped at the net to spike the ball at speeds up to 115 mph, dived all over the court to "dig" opponents' smashes and won 15-7, 15-4, 15-8.
The tournament was a giant step forward for volleyball in its native country (a Holyoke, Mass. YMCA director dreamed it up in 1895, four years after basketball was born in nearby Springfield). Popular—practically beloved—in Czechoslovakia and Brazil, it has attracted thousands of participants in America but hardly any spectators. Often those who play it here play it incorrectly, "throwing" the ball instead of hitting it a sharp blow and generally reducing the game to a pitty-pat activity slightly more tiring than croquet.
The Japanese, who like it fast and furious, added volleyball to the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo; it stayed in at Mexico City in 1968 and it is now an Olympic fixture. This year it became the 17th NCAA championship sport, following trampoline, water polo and soccer, among others, and preceding lacrosse (scheduled for recognition in 1971).
UCLA and 28 other university-division schools have teams, and there are NAIA and college-division teams, too. Many more have volleyball on a club basis, which is how UCLA started 17 years ago.
In 1953 there was a busy volleyball court at the Delta Tau Delta house. Mike O'Hara, who became one of the country's best spikers, and five of his fraternity brothers got to thinking they were pretty good. They borrowed basketball jerseys from the athletic department, pooled their money, piled into a car and drove to Boys Town, Neb. for the U.S. Volleyball Association tournament. A more affluent member of another fraternity flew in to join them, so they had a substitute. They won the collegiate division.
In 1962 things had progressed: the team had a budget of $100, enough to buy eight volleyballs. That was the year Al Scates took over as coach (moonlighting from his job as a Beverly Hills phys ed teacher). He helped start a volleyball league, served as its commissioner, wrote a book on the sport and made an instructional film. Today he actually can give a few grants-in-aid, but the uniforms still look suspiciously like basketball hand-me-downs.
Scates has coached 19 All-Americas, including three spikers who made Olympic teams—Ernie Suwara, Larry Rundle and Keith Erickson, who now starts for the Los Angeles Lakers. Erickson, says Scates, was one of the few athletes who "could walk out after basketball season ended and play volleyball as if he'd never missed a minute of practice."
There was another excellent basketball-volleyball player on campus this season: John Vallely, renowned for his exploits in summer two-man tournaments at the beach, was a starting guard on two NCAA championship basketball teams. He was all set to come out for volleyball, and the team voted to let him do so, but he had hired an agent to negotiate a pro-basketball contract, which, according to NCAA rules, made him ineligible.
Still, it didn't seem as if the Bruins needed any more talent. They had a big hitter of Olympic caliber in Kirk Kilgour. Ed Becker was a superior blocker and almost as powerful a spiker as Kilgour. Dane Holtzman had done well in the Maccabiah Games and was considered a fine setter and back-court defensive man.
UCLA won the league title and lost only one match all year, to Cal State Long Beach in the Western regionals. For the first national tournament the NCAA committee decided to pick those two teams plus UC Santa Barbara, winner of last season's USVBA college division, and Ball State University of Muncie, Ind., champion of the 14-team Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association. For the most part, the Cardinals are a collection of good athletes recruited out of freshman phys ed classes and taught the game from scratch by Coach Don Shondell. All are paying their way through school. They beat Ohio State in their regional tournament to improve their record to 10-0, but in California they were like a bunch of Irishmen trying to beat Italians at boccie.