Volleyball visuals: Ed Chan’s top 15 photos from 2019

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Lee here, unbeknownst to Ed. He wrote an intro to this, but I took it over to give you some idea of what the man does with all those cameras all day long.

No one works harder at shooting volleyball than Ed Chan.

The man is maniacal at photographing our sport, whether it’s indoors for a match with just a few fans on hand, the NCAA season finale, a beach tournament that he went to just because, or the biggest FIVB gatherings in the world.

He estimated in 2019 he shot more than 70,000 photos (which made me glad we’re not paying for film, developing chemicals, and paper). Ed shot indoor men’s and women’s NCAA volleyball action to women’s college beach and AVP and also the FIVB, including the World Championships in Hamburg.

These are his 15 favorite photos of 2019, with his descriptions:

No. 15: You don’t see the double block much in professional doubles competition, much less at the World Championships. Here Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb execute it successfully, much to the surprise of Norway’s Anders Mol.

No. 14: When you’ve seen and taken as many photos as I have, sometimes it’s the unusual that gets my attention. Here the ball sails out of bounds harmlessly as the Pepperdine women celebrate the point. I wish I could say that I was trying to focus on the ball, but it crossed in front of my lens inadvertently for this shot. You may or may not appreciate this photo the same way I do, but it’s definitely something different.

Team Horny Unicorny storms the court/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

No. 13: I wish that we could bottle the magic of the Manhattan 6-Man tournament and use it to start a pro league of some type here in the United States. The tournament is a bucket-list event for any volleyball fan, with the USA’s best indoor and outdoor players competing. Here the bench of Team Horny Unicorny celebrates as they did all tournament long.

No. 12: Without a doubt Taylor Crabb is one of the most athletically gifted defenders on the world tour. Here he competes in the Kau’ai Dinosaur tournament. Most would give up on a ball landing behind a ball barrier, but Crabb still attempts a kick save.

No. 11: This photo requires some context. Many players have experienced their hat or visor falling off during play. Most simply pick it up after the play is over. But if you’re a three-time Olympic gold medalist named Kerri Walsh Jennings, you catch the visor with your left hand, step right to Kong-block your opponent with your right hand without letting the visor touch the sand.

No. 10: It’s tough enough when your opponent rips a tough serve down the line. Worse yet, this serve clipped the tape, falling onto Kim Hildreth’s shoulder as she tries unsuccessfully to make a “chicken wing” pass.

Lexis Akeo, Kayla Lund, Hali Hillegas

No. 9: The pancake dig is pretty ubiquitous in women’s college volleyball these days. Here Pitt’s Lexis Akeo, Kayla Lund and Hali Hillegas vie for the same tip.

No. 8: I enjoyed covering the FIVB World Championships in Hamburg this year (At least  right up until about $13,000 of gear was stolen from the media center). The tournament had impressive diversity, as shown by Egypt’s Doaa Elghobashy, who dug this ball in hijab and burkini.

No. 7: Nick Lucena hurtles partner Phil Dalhausser to play a ball at AVP Huntington Beach.

No. 7a: (Oops, made a counting error while ranking photos, hence the 7a designation). Bruno Amorim is one of my favorite blockers to photograph. Blockers can be a challenge for photographers as blocks typically don’t photograph well and shorter defenders are normally served. Defenders get the photo glory of spectacular horizontal digging photos while blockers get the great celebratory photos of a big block.

Amorim is a buff guy, making a much better photo, and here his eyes seem to almost pop out of socket in celebration.

No. 6: It’s typically hard to get a good defensive photo in NCAA men’s volleyball as the ball is traveling at high speed, making it tough for defenders. Here is a pleasant exception where Long Beach State libero Jordan Molina gets airborne hustling for a net serve during the 2019 championship.

No. 5: I love the intensity of the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament. Cal Poly made it in for the third consecutive year, falling to eventual-champion Stanford. Here the Mustangs’ libero Lea Ungar hustles in for a pancake save.

No. 4: Tri Bourne gives Trevor Crabb a push as the pair win their World Championships quarterfinal match, putting the duo into the medal rounds. Bourne and Crabb would go on to finish fourth, with a massive 1,020 points that put them ahead of their USA compatriots.

No. 3: Sure, I could do a whole gallery on just Taylor Crabb. He defies the laws of physics on a regular basis as a 6-foot defender competing against much taller blocks. Here he runs down a Jake Gibb block touch at AVP Huntington, going airborne on the full run. I don’t envy him the landing.

No. 2: This is Stanford’s Morgan Hentz in the recent NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship. She is the best defender that I have ever seen, and hope to see her on the USA women’s roster in Tokyo.

No. 1: Sarah Sponcil is another ridiculously talented athlete. If you polled beach volleyball photographers on their favorite woman to shoot, I’m pretty certain that it would be a nearly unanimous vote for Sponcil.

Most of the time, when players dig high line shots, the ball obscures the player’s face, ruining the photo. In this particular instance, not only was I lucky to get a clean shot of her expression, but also her hand wrapping around the ball as she “flippers” it up.

I took this photo at the Pac-12 championships this year, and although USC upset UCLA to win the day, UCLA avenged the loss the following weekend in Gulf Shores to repeat their national championship. Those of you following the Olympic qualification race know that she’s in the thick of things for the second USA berth.

Bonus photo (aka another way to sneak in more than 15 photos): Although this photo isn’t outstanding technically, it is the last photo I have of my friend Eric Zaun, who always had a unique and interesting perspective on, well, just about everything. His energy and juju will be missed.

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