Playing the dead zone

Volleyball coach reflects on games haunted by the creepiest silences

Volleyball coach Rick Scott
Dal’s women’s volleyball coach Rick Scott has led his team to win the last eight AUS Championships. Although no stranger to success, some of the stranger events in his coaching career still stand out to him today. (Photo by Dalhousie Athletics)

As coach for 11 seasons with the Dalhousie University Tigers women’s volleyball team, Rick Scott has coached in the biggest games in front of the loudest of crowds in Atlantic University Sport (AUS).

Whether it was the day after a residence extravaganza or in the middle of a blizzard, Scott has also coached in the eeriest and spookiest of dead silences.

In an interview with the Gazette, Scott shared two of the deadest places his teams have played at. The circumstances behind these games were unusual and fascinating, but the Gazette confirms the volleyball court built on top of a graveyard was not one of them.

Memorial University, February 2011

The women’s volleyball team travelled to St. John’s, Nfld. to play the Memorial University Sea-Hawks in 2011. They were set to play at 7 p.m. Friday night and 11 a.m. the next morning.

Minutes before the first game, Scott caught a funny feeling about the crowd from Memorial University (MUN).

“People started streaming in, literally by the hundreds,” he said. “Then it just didn’t stop.”

Scott said MUN had a type of residence night, where students were encouraged to come to the game to support the Sea-Hawks and their own residences. The MUN Field House arena has a capacity of 1,400, but Scott guessed almost 2,000 fans squeezed in. That’s compared to 400-500 at a well-attended game at the Dalplex.

“My team couldn’t hear me in the warm-up. I had to yell the whole time so the girls could hear. The crowd was chanting, singing and cheering. It was wild,” Scott said. “MUN beat us three games to none. That crowd inspired them.”

The next day was the exact opposite.

“There might have been 30 people in the crowd, maybe 50,” Scott said.

The big crowd from the night before, he said, slept in after likely celebrating the previous night’s win. The dead silence was what pushed the Tigers to a win of their own that morning.

“You could hear crickets compared to the night before when you couldn’t hear me yelling from five feet away. I didn’t have to yell the next day,” Scott laughed.

He said he’s never coached in a louder building than that first game at MUN, and the odd silence of the second game made the experience much more memorable.

“The players and everyone there will remember that game forever,” he said. “The girls I coached and I still talk about that weekend.”

University of New Brunswick, February 2015

Four years later, Dal was in the hunt for their third straight AUS banner at the AUS Championships hosted by the University of New Brunswick (UNB).

Dal’s Tigers beat the UNB Varsity Reds Saturday night, setting the stage for the final against the Saint Mary’s University (SMU) Huskies. The battle of Halifax universities, for the fourth straight season, would decide the AUS champion.

Then, Saturday night, a massive blizzard hit Fredericton.

“It lasted a couple of days. It was so bad, the highway didn’t open until Monday evening for us to go home,” Scott said. “But the game went on, even with snowdrifts and not good conditions. Both teams were there and the power was on. So, we played.”

After being able to “get the bus through the snow,” both teams played in front of an unsurprisingly smaller crowd. According to the AUS’s records, 978 attended the Dal vs. UNB semi-final. At the final game on Sunday, there were only 152 people “made up mostly of parents from both teams,” Scott said.

“It wasn’t the usual loud, supportive crowd you’d see in an AUS championship,” he said, comparing the game to those played without fans nowadays in pro sports. “Fredericton was shut down, so clearly not as many people were there.”

What Scott remembers most about that game was how the intensity remained despite the lack of fans. Possibly, it’s a lesson teams could use should they play games without fans in the future.

“It was a good battle,” Scott said. “The game was still very hard-fought and exciting, and the win was just as exciting.”

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Luke Dyment

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