ESPN3 Debut: Stetson Hatters @ Kennesaw State Owls Volleyball
I have been voicing Kennesaw State athletics since 2005 when I first called an Owl’s basketball game on TV23 here locally. Since, I have done play-by-play for soccer, baseball, volleyball, softball, and continued men and women’s basketball at KSU. Earlier this season, Kennesaw State was awarded a grant from the Atlantic Sun Conference to receive the ESPN3 package, which included production equipment, cameras, microphones, etc., but they needed experienced broadcasters. Of course when I was asked if I was interested, I jumped at the opportunity. Once ESPN listened to a sampling of my work, I was approved as an ESPN3 broadcaster. I assumed my first ESPN3 broadcast would be for Owls basketball, but as life sometimes does, I was thrown a curve ball. The opportunity opened for me to sit in on an ESPN3 broadcast of Kennesaw State volleyball. I had called volleyball games in the past, but only as a play-by-play guy. They wanted me to sit in the color analyst seat. That was a very awkward place for me to be, 1. I never played volleyball except in a middle school gymnasium 2. The intricacies of NCAA Division I volleyball is very complex, and 3. I am more comfortable in the play-by-play seat and I knew it would be hard for me not to jump in and start calling the action out of habit. So, I began my preparation. Our first ESPN meeting was held on Wednesday, October 23. It lasted about an hour and included the production format and story lines, but one thing was missing, the play-by-play broadcaster. I was looking forward to meeting him and maybe going to lunch just to become comfortable with my “partner.” I was told the name Brian Drebber, but I didn’t know Brian and the tension built. What if we don’t have chemistry? What if he expects too much from me? What if we don’t gel and the broadcasts comes off weird? All these things were racing through my skull as the pressure built of making my ESPN3 debut. I knew I had better really prepare for any and everything. I sat down that night and began researching the teams. I knew Kennesaw State’s players well enough, but I had to learn about a new bunch called “The Hatters.” Kaley Melville, Kayla Weller, Cailyn Prewitt, the names started molding together into one. Then the stats, hitting percentage, kills, digs, assists, errors, total attacks…It was becoming overwhelming. I decided to go back to my routine for when I prepare as a play-by-play broadcaster.
Next, I would need my consolidated stat sheet: Volleyball stat board
After hours of making the spotter and stat boards, I reviewed my creations to be so familiar with them that I wouldn’t need to look down at them while on camera. I felt very prepared, as a play-by-play guy…now, I knew I would need to dig deeper and fill the voids of my knowledge in volleyball. The first place to start is always the NCAA rule books (found here) http://www.ncaapublications.com/productdownloads/VBR13.pdf. These are great resources for new broadcasters to learn about the rules and the in-and-outs of the game, as they provide examples to how rules are applied. Again, more hours of reading and studying. I usually spend at minimum six to eight hours studying and preparing for a broadcast. Whether it is ESPN or KSU All Access webcast, I put the time in to present a professional broadcast.
Once I believed I had done the necessary studying, it was time to watch Stetson’s volleyball team in action. The Atlantic Sun Conference webcasts all of their conference matches at http://asun.neulion.com/asc/ , which is a great resource. Most major and mid-major conferences have something similar and a lot of the material is free. The Atlantic Sun does a great service to the fans (and broadcasters) as all of the content is 100 percent free.
The next preparations that needed to be made were the story lines that ESPN wanted highlighted. KSU senior setter, Sara Metroka was one set away from breaking the school record for sets played and 33 assists away from her 4,000 career assist. Also, Kennesaw State was seventh in the A-Sun standings and only to top six teams advance to the post season. Of course every team wants to make the championship, but Kennesaw State has more of a motivation as they are hosting the entire Championship tournament. This was a topic that had to be addressed carefully, as you don’t want to call it an embarrassment that they couldn’t make their own tournament, but it is something that makes for a good challenge, especially if KSU won. A third story line for KSU was that the head coach had issued a public tongue lashing to his team after falling three-straight sets to USC Upstate the match prior. It all fit nicely into package for the broadcast. Each story line could be introduced in the opening and spread across the broadcast, especially as Metroka inched closer to her milestone in assists. The Stetson story lines was simple, win and they position themselves for the post season. It was time to script out the production. I had been told that there was some uncertainty that Brian Drebber was going to be able to make the broadcast, so I had to prepare to run the entire show, so I did.
I write my script, which follows the ESPN3 production format provided by Kennesaw State: ESPN3 VOLLEYBALL GAME FORMAT I also watched several ESPN3 broadcasts to see how the opening coincided with the broadcaster’s voice over and when we would be on camera.
My preparations were complete and I was ready for my ESPN3 debut. The game was held on October 25, at 7 PM. The call time for the crew was 2 hours prior. I arrived at the arena at 4:45. I wore a dark gray suit with a white shirt that has small gray lines. The lines can not be too close together or the camera will cause a”zebra” effect on your clothes. I also wore a charcoal colored tie that has some light blue piping. The trousers are the same color as the jacket and are too long. I have neglected to get them tailored for more than two years. I walked in feeling very confident and immediately, I saw a gentleman sitting at the media table. He stood up and extended his hand and in a deep pleasant voice said, “You must be Nathan. I know because you’re the only other person wearing a suit.” I shook his hand firmly and agreed with him. I could tell this man had a great broadcasting presence off camera…the good ones usually do. Brian Drebber and I sat down at the table and chatted about everything but volleyball. I spoke of my broadcasting experience starting in radio in 1999 at WGST, and he trumped me with his experience dating back to ESPN in its debut year of 1979. He began his broadcasting in cycling. Cycling? I couldn’t imagine how to give play-by-play of two dozen cyclists, this guy must be good, and he was! After a pre-game meal of Chick-Fil-A nuggets and a chicken salad sandwich, we made our way back to the media table. We sat down and donned our headsets and finally spoke about the match. The director for the broadcast was Scott H. and he and Brian had worked together previously, so they were cutting up quite a bit, which relieved some of my anxiety. Yes, anxiety. I had done this hundreds of times, but this was different. ESPN3….ESPN….The Worldwide Leader in Sports. It was a big deal, personally.
The first step in the broadcast was to pre-record the opening. After a couple of attempts it was in the can and ready to go. It was very difficult, because the director is calling the opening in your ear and as he calls out camera shots and graphics you’re trying to speak as if someone wasn’t shouting in your ear. I did make a small mistake while giving out a statistic and it has bugged me ever since, but I think it went well. Brian was great. His opening was bold and energetic. Now all we had to do is wait for the start of the match to get cooking. I showed Brian my spotter cards and stat board. He liked them so much he had our friend Hunter McKay make a set of color copies for him. That was an honor and showed he respected the work that I put into the match…and he was stealing it….the good ones do.
The match was very exciting. Sara Metroka broke the careers sets mark for Kennesaw State and reached the 4,000 career set milestone. The Owls took the first two sets, but a resilient Stetson team took the next two sets. It came down to the final set. A race to 15 points in rally scoring. The momentum had clearly swung in the Hatters’s favor, but KSU came out and got the first point. The Hatters looked mad and determined and jumped out to an 6-2 lead. A crucial timeout called by Owls head coach Keith Schunzel was taken and his team responded. Kennesaw State scored 11 of the next 13 points and had a 14-11 lead and were serving for match point. Freshman phenom Kelly Marcinek served up the final ball and after a block by sophomore Toure Hopkins and freshman Meghan McGuiness the game was sealed and the Owls won. With the win, KSU leaped into sixth place in the conference and had clearly responded to Coach Schunzel’s challenge. I couldn’t have been happier for my alumnus and the players, but I had to remain neutral for the broadcast. Once the game was over, it was time to sign off. As quickly as it began, it was finished and although I stayed uncomfortable the entire match, I believe I learned a lot and had fun. There was a post game briefing for the broadcast crew. Everyone seemed to think it went well.
So, there are several things I take away from this experience. First, I believe in my method of preparation. I knew I was prepared for both teams and it really helped during the broadcast. Second, the ESPN format has clearly been refined to get into the game and once it is finished, no dilly-dallying around…it is time to end it. That experience will serve me well going into basketball season. And finally, it is great experience to sit next to a seasoned broadcaster to listen how they transition in an out of breaks and just learn from their experience, after all…that is what the good ones do.