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Alumni gather for 32nd anniversary

Sunday, November 5, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:29 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

Hearnes Center’s scoreboard told the entire story, and it had nothing to do with the score.

Hanging high above the floor, with no more than 100 people below it, the scoreboard glowed at 9:30 a.m. with the names of the two volleyball teams about to play on the court below.

[photo]

From the left, Rachel Taylor, Beth Newton, Loretta McGovern, and Debbie Jennison gather together before the MU volleyball reunion game at Hearnes Center.

(ADAM WIENESKI/Missourian)

From left to right, it read “Old But” vs. “Good.”

Alumni of the Missouri volleyball program from all over the world gathered in Columbia this weekend to celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the program’s birth, culminating in an exhibition match Saturday morning.

The alumni came from near and far. Rock Bridge volleyball coach Beth Newton, who played for Missouri in 1987, traded in her whistle for a pair of kneepads to set for the “Good” team. Columbia’s Sandi Strother, who played for Missouri from 1982-1985, organized the event, but refused to stay on the sideline.

Deb Pickens not only boasted the farthest travel distance, trekking with her family from their home in London, but also the highest age at 53.

“I played on the club team, right before Title IX,” Pickens said after the match. “We had to pay for everything, and we didn’t even play in the Hearnes. We played in Brewer (Fieldhouse).”

These days, Pickens enjoys life as a teacher at an international school in London. She keeps close ties with the game, maintaining her own coaching career in volleyball and encouraging her two sons, who play on English national volleyball teams.

But 32 years after she last played on the MU campus, Pickens returned to Columbia to meet some of MU’s newest alumni.

“They asked me who my coach was,” said Pickens of her fellow alumni. “There isn’t really anywhere to look it up, and I can’t remember who it was.”

When asked what has changed since her days playing for the Tigers, Pickens noted the size of the athletes.

“We were all about as tall as I am, between 5-7 and 5-11,” Pickens said. “Now, it seems like they won’t even recruit you unless you are 6-foot.”

The match on Saturday morning, though friendly, could not be mistaken as easygoing. Bodies flew, teams celebrated and the couple dozen fans on hand, mostly family members, even needled the athletes upon making a mistake. The younger players, with volleyball more fresh in their minds than their elders, stood out the most.

Lisa Boyd-Messick played middle blocker for the “Good” team, and dominated. Boyd-Messick, 24, who graduated last year and now works at an investment center in Marshfield, said that being on the same floor as players past and present was a treat.

“I got to play with a lot of girls that were seniors when I was a freshman,” Boyd-Messick said. “I miss it a lot, and I’m really happy to be back. It was a lot of fun to play with a lot of the older players, too.”

The differences in the ever-important on-court communication became evident early in the match, but Boyd-Messick said the squads quickly overcame any confusion.

“Even when we were calling out the sets, it would be different,” Boyd-Messick said. “They used different terms. It could be a ‘five’ for us, but a ‘slide’ for them.”

Cindy Crist, 34, returned to MU for the reunion, bringing her husband Mick and their two young sons along. Crist, who played setter for the Tigers from 1990-1993, lives and works in Quincy, Ill., as a programmer.

But coming back to Hearnes Center was a chance to reminisce.

“The most fun part is getting to play with girls you played with at the same time with girls you didn’t,” Crist said. “In years past, these reunions have been small, but this year, we had two or three subs for each team.”

While Crist watched the Colorado volleyball team warm up for its match with the 2006 Tigers team later that day, her sons joyfully explored the arena.

“I love bringing my boys here,” Crist said. “They love it here. They think the Hearnes is just huge.”

As for the surprisingly crisp play during the match, Crist admitted that having 13 years off from the game helps.

“We weren’t sore yet,” Crist smiled.

At the end of the match, the scoreboard again told the tale: a 20-14, 20-14, 25-15 victory for the Good team over the Old But squad. But through the handshakes and the hugs, the laughs and the children calling for their mothers, voices could be heard boasting “Wait until next year!”


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