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Archive for Thursday, November 18, 2010

Let’s talk KU women’s sports

November 18, 2010

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Meaningful, eyeball-to-eyeball conversations rank as the No. 1 victim of the mass shift to those so-impersonal communication methods, e-mails and texts. So what do we all do? Talk about the weather. Surely, we can do better, so let today be city-wide, “Don’t Talk About the Weather Day.”

I got off to a head start Wednesday night because I didn’t care if it was cold or rainy.

Kansas University had a rare doubleheader, a volleyball match at 6, a women’s basketball game at 8. The volleyball team plays in a mostly full small building, the Horejsi Center. The basketball team plays in a mostly empty big building, Allen Fieldhouse. Even though the basketball crowds are bigger, they feel smaller.

The way the night started, with Kansas winning the first volleyball set against Baylor and taking a lead in the third, I was convinced Kansas would, for the first time, qualify for the NCAA Tournament in both sports in the same season. Then the Jayhawks fell apart, lost in four sets and dropped to 7-10 in the Big 12, a match behind Baylor.

The basketball team played November Ball in defeating overmatched Texas A&M Corpus-Christi, 85-44. KU exhibited three degrees of ball security: Sloppy, sloppier and sloppiest on the way to 29 turnovers.

Still, the depth is better, especially at point guard, where quick freshman Keena Mays backs up Angel Goodrich. Mix in post players Carolyn Davis, a superstar, Aishah Sutherland and Krysten Boogaard, scorers Monica Engelman and Tania Jackson, and versatile wing Marisha Brown and it all adds up to a tourney-caliber team.

The back-to-back contests made it a good night to note how the sports that in high school tend to have a high degree of overlap among athletes differ and how they are alike.

In both, tall players play near the net, and to a large extent, are set up by shorter ones. Players farther from the net tend to lend more vocal leadership and serve as traffic cops.

The biggest difference: Women look more athletic playing volleyball than basketball. The reasons for the mirage are many. For one thing, we’re used to watching men play basketball and inevitably compare women who don’t run as fast or jump as high to the men. But there is more to it.

For one, the uniforms are different. In volleyball, the shorts are shorter, not as baggy. More athletic muscle tone is visible. The difference in uniforms is a practical one. No part of a volleyball player’s body or uniform can hit the net, so loose clothing doesn’t work. For another, the volleyball court is smaller, so the athletes look larger, more dominant.

More than anything, it’s the height of the net. It’s shorter in volleyball. To watch a woman execute a kill — volleyball’s equivalent of a dunk — is to appreciate the athlete’s bounce and strength. A 9-foot hoop would make the athleticism of women’s basketball players more obvious to those of us on the slow side, but don’t look for that any time soon.

Until gender inequities in society’s more important areas — such as equal pay for equal work — are erased, fighting for equality will take precedence over celebrating differences between male and female athletes.

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