High-SchoolVolleyball: Venice

high schoolESPNHSWith good players, loud fans and rich traditions, some gyms turn into haunted houses for visiting teams. From top left, Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach, Calif.), Venice (Fla.), Avon (Ind.) and Santa Barbara (Calif.) make our list of 13 scary places to visit.
By Walter Villa

A small, cozy gym. Loud, raucous fans. A big, bad volleyball team. Combine all three elements, and you get the kind of place most teams don’t want to visit after dark.

Today, in honor of Halloween, we present some of the nation’s scariest places to play girls’ volleyball – gyms that have become Houses of Horrors for opponents.

We’ve picked 13 sites that are usually unlucky for visiting teams, and since different schools made our list for different reasons, let’s break it down based on categories:

‘CRAZY’ FANS

Avon (Ind.)

All aboard! Ha ha ha ha ha ha haaa!

Ay Ay Ay Ay Ay Ay Ay …

Crazy, but that how it goes at Avon volleyball matches.

Surely Ozzy Osbourne would love Avon’s student cheering section, called the Jersey Junkies. They have more than 70 “cheers,” some of which are designed to distract the opposition.

Case in point: When a rival player prepares to serve, the Junkies mimic her every movement, calling out, for example, “Bounce, bounce, bounce, spin!” Then they all scream when she finally tosses the ball up for her serve.

Bishop Verot (Fort Myers, Fla.)

Between the fans and the pulsating music, it gets so loud at Bishop Verot that opposing coaches have been known to take their teams outside the gym during timeouts just so their instructions can be heard.

Ironwood Ridge (Oro Valley, Ariz.)

The students all wear No. 7 jerseys to symbolize the seventh man on the court. With room for only 450 fans, the gym is usually full. And together with a modern sound system, they bring the noise. The best thing about this place is that an auxiliary gym was converted into a volleyball-only facility, a rarity at the high school level.

Joliet Catholic Academy (Joliet, Ill.)

On Pac-Man night, all the students come dressed in black … except four who show up as the “ghosts” and one who is “Pac-Man,” And from there, the fun ensues.

TRADITION RICH

Burris Laboratory (Muncie, Ind.)

Ball Gym is a special place, and Burris Lab is a special program. Until losing on the road at Wapahani (Selma, Ind.) earlier this month, Burris Lab had won 14 straight state titles. They had also won 95 consecutive playoff matches, many of them at home at Ball Gym.

“It’s an intimidating place for an opponent,” Wapahani coach Mike Lingenfelter said. “You can’t move in that gym without brushing up against one of their national title banners or (22) state title banners. It’s a real confined space, and the fans are right on top of you.”

Palo Alto (Calif.)

Welcome to volleyball, old-school style. The high school, founded in 1898, is one of the oldest in the region. The gym dates back to the 1930s, and fans sit up above in a balcony-style setting. It can get rowdy, especially when Palo Alto is rolling – and, lately, that’s most of the time. The Vikings went unbeaten last year and defeated Long Beach Poly to win the CIF Division I state title.

Fowler (Colo.)

The Grizzlies’ rich tradition includes 13 state titles, and they are tough to beat at home. In fact, they haven’t lost there in four years. It’s a small school (Class 2A) with a small gym. “Our low ceiling teaches us to have great ball control,” Fowler coach Sandy Moss said. “We consider that our seventh man.”

Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach, Calif.)

Fisher Gym has seen tons of great volleyball over the years. Mira Costa has won seven state titles, including its most recent crown in 2007. Only two California schools have won more titles, and that mystique is evident when you walk into the gym that has produced scores of pro volleyball players.

Kamehameha (Honolulu, Hawaii)

Coach Chris Blake said fans at his school’s games routinely paint their faces. That can be an intimidating sight for opponents, who also have to deal with a Kamehameha program that has won 18 state titles since 1969.

Santa Barbara (Calif.)

Established in 1875, this is one of the oldest high schools in California. But its real claim to fame is that it is the alma mater of volleyball legend Karch Kiraly.

IT’S FAN-TASTIC

Venice (Venice, Fla.)

Indians coach Brian Wheatley has patterned his program after the University of Nebraska and makes every home game fan friendly. The cheering section is called “The Wheatley Wackos,” and “Fans of the Week” get to sit on leather couches on the sideline.

“We have a smoke machine,” Wheatley said, “and fans come out dressed as Indians.”

The fun atmosphere is helped by the fact that the Indians have lost only three matches in the past 10 years inside the 1,500-seat TeePee the nickname for their gym. From 2001 to 2009, they didn’t lose there at all.

Since Venice is located on an island, even the bus trip to play Venice is scary as teams have to negotiate three bridges to get there. The team has also been virtually adopted by the city’s large retirement community.

“We get tons of community support,” Wheatley said. “Our girls have been known to sign autographs at the grocery store. That’s how crazy it is.”

Chaparral (Parker, Colo.)

The team’s student section, usually about 200 strong, stands and cheers the entire game. The Wolverines rarely lose at home – they are 33-1 at home the past three years.

Aside from their winning ways, the Wolverines make it fun for their fans by staging contests galore. For example, during timeouts, six pizza boxes are put on different spots on the court. A couple-dozen fans then line up to try to hit one of the boxes – on the fly -- with a serve. If they do, free pizza for the fan!

Snow Canyon (St. George, Utah)

Snow Canyon’s fans are called “Warrior Nation,” and they are passionate. The students love theme nights such as “Super Hero Night” and “Retro Night.” Snow Canyon administrators reward students with gift certificates to local restaurants for the best and most original costumes.

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