Cole Foss, the director of Missouri volleyball’s fan base VolleyZou, wanted to help next year’s student-section leaders. So, Wednesday night, he threw a watch party — a test run.
With the assistance of Senior Marketing coordinator Brooke Skiles, Foss hosted a watch party for the nationally-televised volleyball match between undefeated Missouri (17-0, 2-0) and Southeastern Conference rival Arkansas (9-5, 2-1).
Foss and a few other VolleyZou coordinators — eight of 10 came — gathered at The Shack. They sat around a few round tables and gazed at the large projection screen that spanned across half of the western wall of the room, talking 15 minutes prior to the first serve.
Beside Stiles sat a cardboard box of streamers on a chair. Junior Spirit Coordinators Dan Macak and Matt Owens toyed with a black and gold pom-pom. As of Wednesday morning, the Tigers were one of four undefeated volleyball teams in the nation, commanding the SEC in nearly all statistical categories.
“It’s kind of lost in translation,” Macak said. “I feel like no one pays attention to how our volleyball team is undefeated this year.”
The two contribute a sizeable portion of the work that VolleyZou coordinators do throughout the year. They drive golf carts, offering free rides to matches. They wear the section’s golden T-shirts, post reminders on Facebook, personally ask friends to come to matches, create Facebook events.
A few fans entered the room and approached Macak, who punched holes in their volleyball attendance cards. Usually, they only punch the reward cards at home matches, but they made an exception for the watch party. Five punches and you win a ball autographed by the team. Ten and you get a T-shirt. Go to all the games? You are entered in a raffle to go to a seven-day-long vacation.
“Our goal is to get someone in the stadium once,” Macak said. “Then (we) work them in, so they come to the stands again.”
At the first serve at 6 p.m., the party was a bust.
Missouri began its match early, a possible warning sign in its historic run. The fans were quiet, almost polite, as the Tigers rallied back to take a 15-13 lead in the first set. There were no cheers, just soft, courteous claps, as if not to disturb nearby students. Skiles began most of the spurts of applause.
But slowly, fans congregated near the tables in the room. About 20 were present by the time Missouri grabbed the first set, 25-18. Half of them wore their gold VolleyZou shirts, heads craned to see their faithful black-clad team battle in Fayetteville, Ark.
A few points in the second set later and Foss pulled out a bag full of gray wristbands, doling them out to fans. The wristbands read the team’s motto of the season: Something To Prove. They are the exact ones the players wear.
Arkansas boomed in the second set, spinning off a six-point lead. Missouri began to rally back, and the claps got louder, escaping the quiet gaze of the fans. The Tigers had only lost two sets to that point in the season, but they struggled and sputtered behind a small hitting percentage and shabby blocking.
It was 24-18, set point for the Razorbacks. That’s when the fans got loud.
Missouri won a pair of points, almost as if those two points breathed life into the room. The clock ticked past 7 p.m., and there were about 30 fans in the room, the most there would be all night.
Missouri lost the next point, losing the set 25-20. Foss stood up and doled out sunglasses at the match’s intermission. The fans chattered and got louder, keeping smiles on their faces.
The third set began and out came the pom-poms from the box, shuffling batons in the congenial room. Missouri blew past Arkansas in the set, winning 25-14 and garnering a booming round of applause.
The fourth set started at 7:30 p.m., and the number of fans in the room thinned to about 15, the faithful core of the group. Their claps rose above their murmurs when Missouri tied the set at 12, tied it at 15, then pushed ahead 20-19 in a cacophony of cheers.
As the Tigers neared their victory, Owens jingled his keys, leading his table of the key-jingling devout. Missouri clinched the set, 25-20, and the watch party burst. Fans stomped and clapped, shared high-fives, pounded on tables and cheered of joy.
The party was a hit.
Quickly, the celebrations were goodbyes, and the room emptied. Foss stood amidst the scene.
“Thanks, everyone, for coming out,” he said. “Remember we have a game on Friday!”
Skiles grabbed the cardboard box after collecting pom-poms and a signed volleyball. She heaved her backpack onto her shoulders and stood in a tight circle of six people, all ready to leave.
Foss said he was leaving, and he began to walk away.
“So, tailgate at 5?” somebody asked about Friday’s game.
Foss turned and came back.