Jacob Smith: Nashville helps ‘Grow the Game’

Jacob Smith • Updated Jan 11, 2018 at 1:00 PM

If you read my columns, you’ve probably noticed that I talk about volleyball a lot; well, I’m about to talk about it a little more, because this weekend is possibly the biggest weekend ever for men’s volleyball in Middle Tennessee. 

This weekend is the inaugural Grow the Game challenge, the first Division I-II men’s volleyball tournament in Nashville. 

The tournament is held by Off the Block, a website that focuses on college men’s volleyball news and analysis. Vinnie Lopes, who continues to serve as the editor, founded the publication in 2011. Lopes began his volleyball-reporting career in 2007, covering men’s volleyball for the Ball State Daily News, the school’s newspaper. He covered the team during its 2008 back-to-back wins against then-No. 7 UCLA and when it was nationally ranked by the media and coaches poll. During the 2009 season, Lopes became a voting member in the media poll for rankings. 

Lopes was the first college sports reporter to win the AVCA Grant Burger Media Award for newspaper volleyball reporting. He was also the inaugural winner of the AVCA Grant Burger Media Award social media category in 2013 for Off the Block’s social media coverage of college men’s volleyball. 

After graduating with degrees in journalism and history at Ball State University, he moved to Nashville with his wife, where he continued running Off the Block, albeit from a location somewhat far from where the sport thrives. 

“Despite Nashville not having a NCAA Division I-II men’s volleyball team within a four-hour drive, I knew that one day we had to expose this booming city to men’s volleyball,” said Lopes. 

Lopes finally succeeded this year. The Grow the Game challenge will bring 10 Division I-II teams to Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena in Nashville for the city’s first men’s volleyball event. 

If that’s not exciting enough, two of the teams that will be there were featured in the six-team NCAA tournament in 2017: Barton College from North Carolina and – are you ready for this? – Hawaii from Honolulu. 

Yes, that’s right, the No. 5 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors from arguably the best volleyball state in the country – sorry California, but it’s neck and neck – are coming to Nashville to play in a volleyball tournament. The team features Stijn van Tilburg, an All-American opposite hitter who finished the 2017 regular season third in the nation, averaging 4.32 kills per game. They’ll play against Barton, Grand Canyon and Tennessee’s own Lincoln Memorial University. 

I really haven’t even gotten to the best part. Tickets for the entire weekend of games, spanning from Friday at 10 a.m. until Sunday at around 4 p.m., cost just $10 per person. 

I would be willing to bet you couldn’t watch a nationally ranked team play several games in person for $10 in any other sport. 

For more information on the event or to purchase tickets, visit offtheblock.com. 

Jacob Smith is a staff writer for The Democrat. Email him at jsmith@lebanondemocrat.com and follow him on Twitter @wilsonnewsroom.

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