Volleyball in 2021 was something to remember and worth crying over

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The volleyball year 2021 was one of tears.

At least that’s how I’ll remember it.

Oh, how American volleyball fans cried when that last ball hit the floor in Tokyo, clinching a women’s gold medal for the USA — finally! The players cried, Karch cried, hell, we all cried.

There were plenty of volleyball tears of joy in 2021, and for good reason. 

It was, COVID be damned, a hell of a volleyball year. 

We had not one but two NCAA women’s seasons. We had NCAA men and NCAA beach, a little bit of AVP, and an FIVB season with all the drama we could ask for heading into the Olympics.

Kids got to play club and high school again, and April and Alix won gold in Tokyo, too, and so did our women’s Paralympic team. 

And there were stories. So many great stories, and we’d like to think we captured a ton of them here. 

There was one, however, that also produced tears, but the other kind. That’s when my friend and VolleyballMag.com partner Ed Chan died in September. More than anything else, that’s the one story that will stick out for me forever.

We wrote about it, and that story, including our top 15 from our VolleyballMag.com year, follow. But for so many of us, our lives will never be the same. Ed’s wife, Julie, with whom I had lunch in Columbus and who is a happy Wisconsin fan, is doing well. But it’s hard. 

We had a celebration of life on November 7 in San Diego and it was wonderful. More than 350 people attended on a breezy sunny day, and there were stories and laughs, and, of course, more tears. 

Ed, as much as anyone, would tell us life goes on and, well, it does. But it was a damn shame not to be able to celebrate with him a couple of weeks ago when we passed 2 million page views for 2021 on this site.

Some perspective: When Ed and I bought Volleyball magazine in 2016, we made it completely digital. For the calendar year 2017, we had 950,000 page views. We thought that was good for volleyball, but knew the ceiling was way higher. As I’m writing this on December 30, we’re at 2.21 million-plus views for 2021. And that night earlier this month, when I literally kept refreshing the Google Analytics page and watched us break 2 million? 

I teared up.

So as we wrap up 2021 and bring you our 15 most-read stories of the year, let me say thanks to all of you who are a part of the 2.2 million. And thanks to so many of you who have become VolleyballMag.com Sustaining Members. Thanks to all the people on the VolleyballMag.com team, too, who have stepped up in a big way since Ed died, including editors Phil Hrichak and Stacey Faris (who doubles as our all-purpose administrator); all the photographers, especially Michael Gomez; Mike Miazga, who compiles all those great rankings lists and national teams and is our national advertising executive; and a team of writers who work hard and produce great stories for little money, especially Chuck Curti and John Tawa. There is no limit to the appreciation I and the volleyball world have for Lauren Olds, who maintains our TV and Streaming Listings.

A special thanks to Travis Mewhirter, not only a writing rock star and a heck of a pro beach player, but also a great friend who has been there every step of the way and more than ever since Ed died.

To my other friends in our sport, I cannot tell you how much it meant to hear from you when Ed died. Your continued support and concern is so appreciated.

While we’re at it, thanks to all those NCAA volleyball players who took advantage of the rule and came back for the extra season. It was such a fun year, especially the greatest women’s season ever. 

And thanks for those aforementioned USA Olympians. Winning that gold medal was really special, and I think I speak for all American volleyball fans when I say it was worth crying over. 

OK, enough about tears. Here are the top 15 most-read VolleyballMag.com stories for 2021. Click on the headlines to go to the stories:

15. Feature on USA Olympics libero Justine Wong-Orantes and her mother, Winnie: Long volleyball road leads Wong-Orantes to tears of joy as Tokyo Olympics loom large

Notice a theme here? More happy tears. Ed wrote this story about the Olympics libero in early July after she got home from VNL and before the USA team left for Tokyo.

14. The annual boys Fab 50: Tremendous balance in VolleyballMag.com’s 2021 Boys Fab 50 presented by Academy Volleyball

We know our readers love our lists, and in this case, it was Mike Miazga’s annual boys top-players report that included the best from around the country.

13. The 2021 VolleyballMag.com NCAA All-American teams: Eggleston, Busboom Kelly, Sis top VolleyballMag.com 2021 All-American teams

This came out just last week, so it will get plenty more page views in 2022, but the VolleyballMag.com All-American teams are both prestigious and among our most well-read stories every year. After the best season in NCAA history, this year was no exception.

12. Ed’s July 28 Olympics photo gallery: Photo gallery from Wednesday’s Olympics beach volleyball action

Ed did quite a few photo galleries from the Tokyo Olympics, and every one got plenty of page views, but this one resonated with more views than the others. Ed went to almost every USA match in Tokyo, indoors and on the beach, and took literally tens of thousands of photos during the Games.

Photo gallery from Wednesday’s Olympics beach volleyball action

11. The VBM Girls Fab 50: Texas players dominate 2021 VolleyballMag.com 50, Huskers have biggest haul

As we said, VBM readers love our lists, especially the annual Girls Fab 50 that Mike Miazga compiles. Not surprisingly, two of those Nebraska players, who were in our top five, started in the NCAA national-championship match. The list also included Norah Sis, who went to Creighton and was the VBM national freshman of the year.

10. SANDCAST with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, the episode with Latvian Olympian Tina Graudina: SANDCAST: Tina Graudina, Latvian trailblazer, is here to inspire

The popular podcast by Bourne and VBM beach editor Travis Mewhirter posts every Wednesday on this site. Each week, Mewhirter writes about the interview and has links to the podcast. In this case, the one with USC national-champion and then soon-to-be-Olympian Tina Graudina was a big hit. It’s worth the read and the listen.

Ed Chan, June 2021 in New Orleans

9. Ed Chan dies: VolleyballMag.com co-publisher, photo editor Ed Chan passes away

That day, Friday, September 3, was a blur.  I got the word that morning while in my home in Baton Rouge. By that night, I was in Chicago, where Ed died in his sleep. He was covering AVP Chicago. That story was our shortest of the year, just two paragraphs, but it sent shock waves throughout the volleyball community.

8. The 2021 NCAA national semifinals are set: Welcome Louisville, Pitt, Wisconsin, Nebraska to the ACC-Big Ten NCAA volleyball final four

This was our recap of the four NCAA Tournament regional finals that — unless Nebraska won again — ensured that a new team would be crowned champion.

7. Olympics roundup July 31: Olympics beach volleyball playoffs set; USA women lose match and player; men must win

The first paragraph: The intensity level for USA Volleyball rose considerably Saturday at the Tokyo Olympics as the beach playoffs were set, the USA women not only got swept but perhaps lost a star player, and the USA men prepared for a must-win match Sunday. No wonder so many of you read the story that day. Plus there were Ed’s usual great photos.

6. The Crossroads breast-feeding debacle: Rapid Read: USA Volleyball yanks Colorado Crossroads qualifier status

This story almost defied explanation. In a nutshell, from the article: In mid-May in Denver, Crossroads denied access to nursing babies of parents and coaches, citing a tournament-imposed rule to deny access to any non-players under 16 years of age. It set off a club-volleyball firestorm, and John Tawa wrote about it as it unfolded.

5. Men’s Olympics roster: Speraw, USA Volleyball announce 12-player men’s Olympic roster for Tokyo

Simply put, people wanted to know.

4. USA women’s VNL roster: Kiraly announces 18 USA Volleyball women on FIVB VNL Roster

And they wanted to know who was going to VNL as the list was pared to 18. But only 12 would make the Olympics team.

3. What to expect from the USA in the Olympics: The breakdown of the six USA volleyball teams in Tokyo, with some scene-setting

This was a look at all of our teams in the Games, which included the USA women and USA men indoors, April Ross and Alix Klineman and Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in women’s beach, and Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena and Jake Gibb and Tri Bourne in men’s beach.

Our staff members offered analysis and predictions and were pretty spot on.

2. NCAA women’s recruiting classes: Nebraska, Stanford, Penn State top VolleyballMag.com recruiting class rankings

Another of Mike Miazga’s annual lists, and this one was as popular as ever. He included not only freshmen, but also all the transfers who made such a big impact on NCAA volleyball this past season. It’s always interesting to go back and see how the incoming players fared in their first seasons.

1. The USA women’s roster: Kiraly, USA Volleyball announce 12-player women’s team for Tokyo Olympics

Interestingly, this was not only our most well-read story of the year, but it had six times as many page views as the story the day the USA women actually won gold in Tokyo. The headline when the U.S. won: Tokyo tears of joy! USA routs Brazil, wins country’s first women’s Olympics volleyball gold medal

Lee and Julie Chan at Ed’s celebration of life November 7, 2021.

The list above represents the stories that were most read in 2021 on  VolleyballMag.com. We had so many great stories, mostly features, that did not make the top 15. There are so many wonderful stories and people in our sport, and we love to write about them. In 2021, however, no story was more important to us than our tribute to Ed, which we post here one more time:

Remembering Ed Chan, a friend, great photographer, mentor, volleyball icon

Help keep free volleyball journalism free by becoming a VolleyballMag.com Sustaining Member: https://volleyballmag.com/sustaining-membership/
If becoming a Sustaining Member is not for you, but you just want to help out, we welcome your contribution via Venmo @VolleyballMag

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