• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

US women's sitting volleyball team wants sport to be a household name, defend gold

·5 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Monique Matthews wants to make sitting volleyball a household name.

Matthews, 32, began playing the sport in 2010 and had no prior volleyball experience. It took her over a year to pick up the skills and actually feel like she was contributing to her team.

It wasn't just the normal volleyball skills that Matthews had to pick up, though. She had to learn how to move using her arms and legs — her left leg is amputated at the ankle — while also playing the ball.

That's why she wants to bring more public attention to sitting volleyball. Matthews wants people to know that it's a tough sport, and to stop calling her and her teammates lazy.

"I wish they would just try it and they would realize that you can't be lazy at all. It's actually much harder than standing just because of the movement part of it," Matthews told USA TODAY Sports.

Women's sitting volleyball made its fifth Paralympic appearance at the Tokyo Paralympic Games. The U.S. women, who began play with a 3-0 win early Saturday against Rwanda, are the reigning gold medalists; the U.S. men did not qualify.

Women's sitting volleyball was added as a Paralympic sport in 2004 at the Athens Paralympic Games. China has won every women's gold medal except for one, when the U.S. took gold in 2016 in Rio.
Women's sitting volleyball was added as a Paralympic sport in 2004 at the Athens Paralympic Games. China has won every women's gold medal except for one, when the U.S. took gold in 2016 in Rio.

Here's everything you need to know about the Paralympic sport:

History of sitting volleyball

There's evidence of the sport being played as far back as 1943, but it wasn't until 1956 that the Dutch sports committee introduced sitting volleyball to the world. Sitting volleyball combines volleyball and a German sport called sitzball that has seated players but no net. The first international competition took place in 1967 in Flensburg, Germany.

Men's sitting volleyball made its debut at the 1980 Paralympic Games in Arnhem, Netherlands, when the host country won gold. Women's sitting volleyball was first played in 2004 in Athens, when China captured gold medal.

What are the rules?

There are many similarities between the rules of sitting volleyball and the FIVB able-bodied rules. Teams are allowed six players on the court at a time and get three touches (plus a legal block) to return the ball over the net to their opponent.

However, there are a few key differences. Sitting volleyball is played with a shorter net, 3-foot-8 for men and 3-foot-6 for women. The court, approximately 30 feet by 20 feet, is smaller as well. Matches are also played in a best-of-five set format compared to best-of-three. Sets are still played to 25 points (15 in the third set) and require a two-point lead to win.

Sitting volleyball also has a few unique rules due to the nature of the game. Players' torsos — between their buttocks and shoulders — must maintain contact with the court while playing the ball. The only exception is when the ball is already below the height of the top of the net and players are making a defensive action.

The classification for sitting volleyball is divided into two categories, V1 and V2. Classifications in Paralympic sports determine eligibility and help create sport classes according to an athlete's activity limitations.

For sitting volleyball, athletes in the V1 class have impairments that significantly impact the core functions, including missing or shortened limbs from birth, amputations and involuntary movements. Athletes under the V2 classification have less severe impairments. Team rosters are only allowed two athletes in the V2 class.

What to know for Tokyo

The U.S. women's team, which won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics and silver in 2012, returns eight veterans from the most recent Games. Though COVID-19 complications caused a couple roster switch ups, almost all of the players in Tokyo also played in the Golden Nations League tournament in July. The United States lost only two sets in six matches, winning the entire tournament.

"It's been a good blend of veteran and new players just to see how they play differently or think differently, and then they can see like how we play and the little ins and outs of the sitting game," Matthews said.

Monique Matthews, 32, is a two-time Olympic medalist. She has been named Sitting Player of the Year three times.
Monique Matthews, 32, is a two-time Olympic medalist. She has been named Sitting Player of the Year three times.

Matthews, who participated in two previous Olympics, will be a leader on the U.S. team. The outside hitter tallied 31 points on 23 kills, six blocks and two aces during her debut at the 2012 Paralympics and played an integral role in the United States' 3-0 win over China in the 2016 gold-medal match. Matthews was named USA Volleyball Sitting Volleyball Player of the Year in 2019.

American setter Kanahele Maclay will be another important player. Maclay is also competing in her third Paralympics. She earned Best Setter honors at both the 2018 World Championships and 2019 Parapan American Games.

The USA Sitting Volleyball team posing for a team photo in their Team USA gear.
The USA Sitting Volleyball team posing for a team photo in their Team USA gear.

Russia is one of the United States' biggest competitors this year. The two teams just played each other during the Golden Nations League tournament, and Matthews said the U.S. tinkered with its lineup to adjust to the Russians being one of the tallest teams in the competition. The U.S. beat Russia 3-1.

"It's important to get good matchups against them with our players because we have a mix of a couple tall and then couple short, so we had to make sure that our taller players were against their tallest players, but I think we did really well," Matthews said. "I have faith that we're just gonna continue that throughout the Paralympics."

How to watch

The U.S. women will play their second preliminary match against China at 5 a.m. on Monday.

Sitting volleyball will air live on NBCSN on Monday and Sept. 3-4. You can find NBC's full schedule for the Paralympics here.

Contact Emily Leiker on Twitter @emleiker

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2021 Paralympics: Sitting volleyball history, rules, players to know