Alexey (foreground, in gray) defends against a spike from the opposing team.

Each Saturday and Sunday evening at the VSUES gym, students gather to play volleyball. The practice is free and open to all students. On both evenings, practice begins around 7:00 pm.

While the practice is open to all students, the core members and attendees of this gathering are the BlackHawks. The BlackHawks are unaffiliated officially with the school, but they still play competitively with other teams around the city. The BlackHawk’s coach, Alexey, also plays on the VSUES official men’s volleyball team. He keeps the BlackHawks as his side project.

Although only in his first year at the university, Alexey is already proving to be a dedicated leader for the team that he has created. He affectionately refers to them as his “children,” and purposefully works alongside the players throughout warm-ups, drills, and practice matches.

In fact, this is the most interesting point. Rather than just providing a venue where people show up for a few games to have some fun, the whole session keeps a structured focus, with ample time spent on warm-ups and drills. Repetition serving, setting, and spiking has helped my game quite a bit recently. I have never considered myself to be anything above basically competent at volleyball, but the regular practice has made for some marked improvement. The skill range of players varies quite a lot. Some of us are still working on setting the ball consistently and accurately (read: me), while others are adept at high-velocity spikes. It can be a little bit intimidating in the games, but everyone has a positive attitude and the good players don’t expect everyone to be a volleyball wizard.

In addition to the volleyball, this environment is also a good place for language practice. The nice thing about sports is, provided you already know the basic rules, you don’t need much to get started. Like with nearly every activity, there is some specialized vocabulary associated with it and asking questions about different aspects of the game is always helpful to add a few extra words to your vocabulary.

Overall, I would say that this is one of the better kept secrets that I have found at the university. It is not advertised, and word of it spreads only organically. The people are very friendly, however, and it has been a great way to meet new friends and get some exercise on the weekends.

Jonathan Rainey

Jonathan Rainey

Jonathan Rainey majored in History and English at Francis Marion University in Florence, SC. While at Francis Marion, he was a member of Phi Alpha Theta, National History Honors Society and worked as a reporter for The Patriot, the university’s newspaper. Jonathan will be serving as an SRAS Home and Abroad Scholar in Vladivostok for the 2015-2016 school year. He is pictured here at Vladivostok’s annual celebration of “Tiger Day.”

Jonathan is attending Home and Abroad: Security
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