The Rise of Social Animals: The Sociology Department Volleyball Team

Social Animals 2019: Back Row L-R: Martin Lukk, Jason Settels, Laura Upenieks, Andrew Nevin, Prof. Irene Boeckmann, Prof Rachel LaTouche; Front Row L-R: Sebastian Parker, Catherine Yeh

The past two summers (2018, 2019) have witnessed the rise of the Social Animals in the University of Toronto Summer Intramural Volleyball League. Spearheaded in 2018 by Prof. Geoff Wodtke (now at the University of Chicago), the team is comprised of both graduate students and faculty members at the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto.

To say that the team has vastly improved since the first game last year would be an understatement. We were the very definition of unprepared and lost at the start of last year–like going into a presentation without slides or a well-thought-out script! Few of us had ever played a competitive volleyball match. In fact, during the first match, we didn’t know how to warm up in proper volleyball format. We didn’t really know that you could hit the ball three times on your own side before it was required to go over the net. In fact, at an even more rudimentary level, we didn’t even bring our own volleyballs to warm-up with…so as could be expected, we lost handily. Initially, we were quite surprised by the level of competition in the league. While we struggled to figure out how to warm-up, these teams were executing back-sets, jump serves, power and offside hits, “quicks,” and back-court hits (translation: volleyball strategies akin to complicated methods in sociology). We competed against several teams comprised of undergraduate students, most of which played intramurals year-round (intramurals are also held during the fall and winter semesters). Many of these players were likely former competitive or high school volleyball players, and some, by our estimation, were probably good enough to make the U of T varsity team if they so desired. So, we knew from the start that it would take nothing short of our best effort to produce a win.

In our first season (2018), we did well to win a few sets here and there off of teams but didn’t muster a win in a best 2 out of 3 set format. We lost a tough three-set match in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual league champions. Despite the results being less than we wanted, we could see improvement each week. Thanks to the tactical expertise of Prof. Scott Schieman and Andrew Nevin, we started to hone in on a strategy that fit our personnel and utilize our skills in an efficient way. With a few good X’s and O’s marked up on the whiteboard (after all, what else are whiteboards really for?), we gained confidence with each bump, volley, serve, spike, and set.

Given the fun that we had in 2018, the team decided to give it another go this past summer (2019). With some familiar faces and some new players, the Social Animals set out to improve on the previous season. And we did! We were competitive in every game, eventually managing to win 2 games outright in the best 2 out of 3 set format. We also won a set off of one of the top teams, representing the best we’ve played until that point. Our last win of the season (August 8, 2019) showcased two years’ worth of improvement and effort. Down 18-13 in the first set, some timely serving by Prof. Rachel LaTouche and some great teamwork (we figured out the three hits on each side thing!) saw us come back and edge our opponents 20-19. Then we found ourselves in a similar predicament in the second set, this time down 17-13. Some masterful serving from Catherine Yeh spearheaded the comeback. And tied 19-19 with the set on the line, a seemingly endless rally saw a wonderful combination of teamwork: a great pass, a

well-timed set, and a ferocious backcourt hit by Andrew Nevin that our opponents weren’t able to return. What a fantastic end to a great season!

For those of you who are interested in joining the team moving forward, we hope to put together a team again for the 2020 summer. The Co-Ed Intramural Volleyball League at the University of Toronto requires 3 males and 3 females to be on the court at all times. We are especially in need of female graduate students or faculty members to play! You are guaranteed to have a great time! Stay tuned for more information in the coming months.

Until then, on 3, ANIMAL MAGIC!

1,2,3, ANIMAL MAGIC!!!!

— post written by Laura Upenieks


Absent from Photo: Tyler Bateman, Prof. Fedor Dokshin, Prof. Angelina Grigoryeva, Prof. Jeffrey Reitz

Former Team Members (2018): Prof. Geoff Wodtke, Prof. Scott Schieman, Atsushi Narisada, Phil Badawy, Marie-Lise Drapeau-Bisson

The team extends a huge thanks to Jeremy Nichols for the design of the team Social Animal t-shirts (now available in grey and black).