In the spotlight: the Student Cup
29th January 2018
There will be a feast of volleyball this weekend as the Student Cup Finals take place at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich. Sixteen teams in each of the men’s and women’s competitions will battle it out for glory.
The long-running competition has become firmly established as an integral part of the student volleyball calendar and has developed its own unique atmosphere.
“The Student Cup is played in a weekend format,” explains Ade McGraa, the Student Cup Lead. “The qualifying rounds are in different regions of the country and teams play a number of games, so each round has a tournament feel to it.”
“There is less pressure than when university teams play in the British Universities and College Sports (BUCS) championships, where teams are trying to score points to maintain their status at certain leagues or levels, and when matches are mostly played on Wednesday afternoons.
“The Student Cup is more fun but teams also really want to do well. There are not many adult competitions which have a less formal atmosphere, but the Student Cup is the largest adult competition in which teams choose to enter.”
The inviting and infectious atmosphere of the competition is particularly highlighted in the early rounds of the Cup when there are lots of players trying volleyball for the first time.
“In the qualifying rounds, we are quite relaxed about the rules on team kit and stuff like that as there are lots of random teams. Some teams will have only just formed a week or two before they play, as the first rounds are quite early in the academic year,” says Ade, who has been involved with the competition for over 27 years.
“We’ve had teams of complete beginners taking part and there have been times when they have to be taught the basics of how to dig, volley and score, or shown how to flip the numbers on the scoreboards!
“In BUCS, teams from the different tiers often don’t get to play each other. In the Student Cup, all teams have an equal shot at qualifying for the finals. A lot of the lower-ranked teams really enjoy taking on the big teams. Even if they lose, they can often say they have played well.”
With each round having many games in one venue it makes the competition a social experience too. That is not to say that teams do not take the Student Cup seriously.
“Teams want to take home the Student Cup,” says Ade, who played in the competition herself when she was a student. “The best sides get through to the finals. We always invite the Irish Varsity winners in the men’s and women’s game and the previous year’s champions automatically qualify for the finals too. Many Olympians and former England players came through in the Student Cup, including Maria Bertelli, Ben Pipes, Lucy Boulton, Zara Dampney and Alex Porter.”
The pathway of players, and not just those that play at the highest level, through the Student Cup is part of the importance of the competition to the wider volleyball community. University is a place where many volleyballers can get hooked on the sport for life, or fall away as focusing on their studies and future careers takes over. The Student Cup gives players of all standards the opportunity to keep playing competitively and enjoy volleyball.
“The Student Cup is all about progression and entertainment,” says Ade. “It helps students to continue playing volleyball. I have seen many players come through the Student Cup and have even followed some of them as their careers have progressed, and then see them back in student volleyball as coaches. There have been many notable coaches who have come through the Student Cup, such as Howard Ainsworth and Simon Loftus, the current England Men’s Head Coach.
“It also sees a lot of referees come through too. Young and inexperienced refs can benefit from gaining experience in the Student Cup, particularly in the earlier rounds when the standard of play is lower and things are less formal. It helps to build their confidence as referees, as they get support.”
This year’s Student Cup Finals promises to be a great event. The line-up of teams includes many sides who reached this stage of the competition last year. Matches are also the best of three sets which means there is more pressure on teams to be at their best from the first serve and more opportunities for upsets. Over the two days there will lots of matches being played over eight different courts so if you fancy going to the Sportpark, University of East Anglia, Norwich to watch, entry is free.
Look out for our preview of the Student Cup Finals later this week.