By Laura Latzko, Sept. 25, 2014.
According to Webster’s dictionary, a volley — in sports — is a shot or a kick made by hitting a ball before it touches the ground.
Nowhere does it say what type of ground. And so, the worlds of indoor and outdoor volleyball continue to coexist. And a few brave competitors have been known to bump, set and spike in both.
In Phoenix’s LGBTQ volleyball leagues — the Desert Volleyball Alliance and Arizona Gay Volleyball Association — competition and camaraderie are abundant.
And, according to Desert Volleyball Alliance Commissioner Fred Bryan, these are two of the attributes players value the most.
“Growing up as gay kids, a lot of players didn’t feel that they belonged or were supposed to play,” Bryan said. “They find playing as an adult that they are good and that they belong.”
Both leagues, which offer seasons throughout the year, kicked off fall play in September.
BayLen Lamar, a player in both leagues who lives in Casa Grande, said indoor and outdoor volleyball have helped him to improve overall and allowed him to become a more specialized defensive player.
Lamar, who grew up playing soccer and running cross-country, has come to enjoy volleyball because of the health benefits, competitive play and social aspects. But admits that it has taken hard work and time to improve both his indoor and outdoor skills.
“It takes patience when you play,” he said. “You want to become a setter straight off, you want to do a perfect set. You want to spike the ball inside the court, down where nobody can get to it. It takes a great deal of patience to become a more well-rounded player.”
On the Court
The Desert Volleyball Alliance, an indoor volleyball organization, started in January 2010 and offers players a faster-paced game.
Bryan said the indoor leagues offers competitive play for anyone, regardless of whether they are LGBT or straight and added that many of the teams and players in the league are straight allies.
“We’re not here to call you out on anything,” Bryan said. “As long as you are here to play volleyball and are a good sport, we don’t give a rip how you identify.”
DVA is one of the newer additions to the North American Gay Volleyball Association, a national organization that boasts more than 30 leagues around the country. This network affords players and teams opportunities to compete in different cities.
Lamar had the chance to play against teams from throughout the country during his first NAGVA tournament in San Diego earlier this year.
“You feel like you are capable of doing so much more when you play in these national tournaments,” he said. “When you battle against people from other places, it gives you a sense of pride.”
The indoor leagues kicked off the 12-week fall season — comprised of 10 weeks of regular season play and two weeks of playoffs — Sept. 17, but allow new players to join at any point.
Regular season play takes place Wednesdays at the Valley of the Sun YMCA, also known as the Chris-Town YMCA, and open play takes place Saturdays throughout the season at the Sports Club at City Square on Central Avenue.
Each year DVA hosts two all-day tournaments, including the Krush Classic Sept. 28 at the American Sports Center in Avondale. And, in February, the organization’s annual two-day Volley Del Sol Tournament, sanctioned by NAGVA, will return after a one-year hiatus.
According to Bryan, fundraising is also an important aspect. During the Spike It For Your Life fundraiser — for AIDS Walk Arizona and 5K Run — participants are required to wear or hold drag attire while playing.
Bryan, who no longer plays volleyball because of knee problems, played almost every day for more than 20 years in Texas and then Arizona.
“I was one of those people. I played all out,” Bryan said. “If you are going to play a game, play it all out.”
Although the camaraderie on and off the court keeps players coming back every year after year, the number of players in the league varies each season.
During the summer, Bryan said the league saw exponential growth in the number of players and teams. But for fall, he anticipates about 100 players on 13 teams in the BB and B divisions (the league won’t offer the most-competitive A division for fall).
In the Sand
For players who want to experience outdoor volleyball, the Arizona Gay Volleyball Association (AZGV) has committed to providing venues for adult volleyball competition and “develop people of all abilities and experience to participate in sports competitions” through its competitive, four-player, or more recreational, six-player, volleyball divisions.
“The six-man league has worked because of our relaxed atmosphere and because of our enjoy-volleyball-and-come-out-to-have-a-good-time-and-support-each-other attitude,” said Conard Franz, AZGV commissioner. “I really think that’s why we work so well. It’s a fun atmosphere. It’s for everyone. We all get along and have a good time.”
Franz said the league, in its 10th year, offers players a chance to be out and express themselves freely in a judgment-free environment. But, for players accustomed to indoor volleyball, playing in sand can take a little while to get used to, he cautioned
“You can’t move as fast or jump as high when you are playing in sand,” Franz said, “you have to adjust accordingly.”
The sand league’s eight-week fall season runs from Sept. 29 to Nov. 17 followed by two weeks of tournament play for the top-ranked teams.
The league hosted its third annual Quick Sand Tournament, one of its two major fundraisers, Sept. 20, and plans to have its second annual Sets on the Sand Tournament Memorial Day weekend.
Throughout the years, Franz has witness the development of many different players.
“We’ve had people go from not knowing how to serve to being some of our top players over the years,” Franz said. “I’ve definitely seen people grow and come into their own.”
During his time in the outdoor league, Lamar has advanced from the C to the A division, crediting his improvements throughout the past two years to other helpful players.
“They see someone like me who is relatively new to playing volleyball, and they give insight. They show you what you are doing wrong, what you can do better,” he said. “At one point I would like to be one of those guys — improve my abilities so I can help someone else who is learning.”
Franz anticipates between 42 to 44 teams and more than 250 players during the fall season.
AZGV offers five levels of outdoor volleyball: six-player teams from the highly skilled A division and the more recreational C division play at Steele Indian School Park, while the B division teams face off at the Wyndham Garden Phoenix Midtown each Monday. And, four-player teams from the A/B and B/C divisions play at Steele Indian School Park on Tuesdays.
DVA vs. AZGV
Beside the surface of the volleyball court, and, of course, the influence of the elements, here are some of the major differences between indoor and outdoor volleyball.
In the outdoor league, teams have anywhere between four and eight players, depending on the format, while the indoor league allows for between six and eight players per team.
In some cases indoor and outdoor courts vary in size, but the local sand leagues use a similar court size as the indoor leagues. However, the indoor courts differ because the backcourt lines are 3 meters from the net.
In sand volleyball, all league members have to play different positions. Indoor volleyball often has more specialized positions, including a defensive specialist known as a libero. Bryan said players often have certain roles, such as setter or middle blocker, in which they specialize based on their skills and/or size.
Indoor volleyball players generally play two games to 21 points during the regular season while outdoor volleyball consists of the best two out of three games with anywhere from 12 to 21 points, depending on the number of games and players.
The two leagues have many of the same rules, but have slight differences in what is allowed. In sand volleyball, players cannot touch the net. Indoor volleyball allows for players to touch the net in some instances and back-row players have to start their attack from behind the 10-foot line.
The DVA’s regular-season games and tournaments are governed by rules set by NAGVA. During NAGVA tournaments, league officials rate players based on their skills. While there is no national governing body for AZGV, it has implemented rules for its four- and six-player teams.
Desert Volleyball Alliance
Valley of the Sun YMCA
5517 N. 17th Ave.
Arizona Gay Volleyball Association
Steele Indian School Park
300 East Indian School Road
Wyndham Garden Phoenix Midtown
3600 N. Second Ave.