Page 4: That first Dayton volleyball season
Updated: Apr 3, 2020
This video successfully makes me wince. It's the highlight package of my very first volleyball broadcast. And the first game I ever called that turned into a paycheck. Again, $50 per game.
This is 2013, my first season as a "professional" working for my first team, the Dayton Flyers women's volleyball program.
To be honest, it's cringe-worthy, but it's not that bad for my first volleyball broadcast ever. I was maybe two calendar years into being behind a microphone with zero on-air training. The only training I ever received was from listening to the other juniors and seniors who did it. Honestly, everything was off the cuff as far as mechanics went. I did my best to stay organized.
As you can probably hear from my delivery, word choice, and timing, I was all over the map. Certainly hit my beats at times -- enough to think I was moving forward, which I definitely was doing. But I sound young and inexperienced, which I absolutely was. No better place to get stronger.
Tournament weekends are the best thing about college volleyball. That first weekend I broadcast on Friday night (Tulsa), Saturday afternoon (Northeastern), and Saturday night (Missouri State). Getting the reps in -- completely solo mind you -- with at least nine sets in 24 hours. Killer stuff. By the way, Dayton wasn't like other schools. At Syracuse, Fordham, and Mizzou, for instance, I'd be competing with tens of hundreds of other students looking to get air time. At Dayton, guess who was the only one? Yep. And it's a huge reason why I was able to 1) stick with it 2) get better quicker.
Sure as the season went on, the broadcasts had gotten better. The stretches were smoother. The above video was from a FlyerTV broadcast, yet all of the other road matches were "radio calls." All audio, no video, meaning I had to create the image in a listener's head as fast as humanly possible.
Narration time: the one thing I've always wanted to do on my broadcasts is to tell stories. As I went back and studied the great broadcast storytellers (growing up it was always John Sterling with the Yankees), they would always sneak in a story about something. Sterling would be calling a game in 2004 and talk about Derek Jeter's first year or dinners and insight with Joe Torre, etc. I always wanted that as part of my nature. That behind-the-scenes human interest story that makes the players, coaches, trainers, whomever, as normal as possible and different from all the boring stats. Even in my first year, I was so damn frustrated that I didn't have stories, stories, stories. It turns out, especially writing this at 26 years old, that I didn't know I had to live them first before I could tell them. Sterling wasn't reading these things out of a book -- he lived it!
So a few stories popped out from that first season.
1. The Nebraska Trip
Volleyball went by in terms of "weekends." Where are you this weekend? Home, road? That kinda thing. Matches in non-conference were played on Friday, Saturday, and maybe Sunday. Conference matches were Fridays and Sundays depending on the schedule.
So "weekend 3" was a trip to Nebraska. This trip was big time. Nebraska, at that time was ranked 12th in the nation. We were scheduled to play Iowa State on Thursday evening, Nebraska on Friday night, and St. Mary's on Saturday. Flight from Dayton to Chicago to Lincoln. Only, when we got to the airport on Wednesday night, we found out that our flight to Chicago was delayed. We wouldn't land in time to make the connecting flight to Lincoln, Nebraska.
Teams would have gone back to campus, retooled, rebooked, and took the first flight out in the morning. Tough to do for a 5:30 p.m. match in another time zone (an hour before). Call it 4:30. So then-head coach Matt Affolder decided the way I learned Matt Affolder sometimes decides things. Quickly, impatiently, and demonstratively. All of this, I learned to love. A few times it happened and it was chaotic, but situations like this made me smile. His idea?
Let's bus it.
What? Bus it to Lincoln, Nebraska? When?
Yep. We laid in the airport from 3 p.m. until they could find an overnight bus service. I don't think the bus got to Dayton International Airport until 7 or 8. The Dayton volleyball team took an overnight bus -- which the girls were most definitely not used to. 750 miles later, we rolled into Lincoln at around 8 or 9 in the morning (which would have been 7 or 8 a.m. Central Time). Pulled into town, immediately went to the hotel bar for breakfast, went to bed, and woke up in time to get to the Bob Devaney Center. The team got absolutely smoked that first night. The ladies were exhausted and got swept by Iowa State 3-0. Next night, swept by Nebraska 3-0. Then Saturday night they beat St. Mary's in five sets. One of the most exciting matches of the season. We flew home -- thank God.
2. Primanti Brothers & Jerome Bettis
Like I said, I love Matt Affolder. The man knows what he wants and when.
In October, we had a one-match weekend in Pittsburgh -- a four-hour trip. Not too shabby from Dayton. Short enough where you don't mind being on a bus, but long enough that Matt wanted to leave the night before and stay in a hotel. Dayton was able to pull this kind of thing off. If I was broadcasting for a smaller school (or a minor league baseball team), we would have left the morning of and drove back after the game.
The bus rolled into Pittsburgh on Friday night with a Saturday night game on the schedule. As we unload the bus and get our hotel keys, Matt asks me and Connor, one of the practice players, if we wanted to go to Primanti Bros. I had never heard of it. So, in the spirit of loving life on the road and always seeking adventure (and always being hungry), we got ready to go.
While I was sitting in the lobby waiting for the boys to come down, Jerome Bettis -- yes, that Jerome Bettis -- walked through the double doors and over to the elevators. Hey! Things you don't see every day.
Anyway, I was the only one that saw "The Bus," much to the dismay of the other members of the late-night crew. Told them, and we headed out for Primantis Bros.
The place was the same size as a New York City restaurant. Small, compact, and with a countertop that gives you a nice view of the sizzling grill. These sandwiches are colossal. Each bread slice is about an inch thick. Strong crust but soft doughy inside. Whatever sandwich ordered off the menu would usually come with cole slaw AND french fries on top. They displayed the dishes in front of us and said, "here you go, smash it and stuff it."
Apparently, the steel workers in Pittsburgh didn't have time to pack forks, knives, Tupperware, etc. when they brought their lunch to the job site. They had to stack it all on one sandwich. Smash it = push the sandwich together. Stuff it = EAT.
The best part of the story was that Matt wanted to go back in the morning for lunch. And so we went. We ate Primanti Bros. twice in about 16 hours. Amazing. Like I said, the man knows what he wants.