The Society of Jesus has a diverse and colorful history, and for the past 10 years the students of Georgetown University have organized Jesuit Heritage Week in order to celebrate and make visible the school’s Jesuit character. While all of the week’s events are meaningful, one gathering is far more important and consequential than the rest—the annual Spike-A-Jesuit volleyball match.
Nothing screams “Jesuit heritage” quite like an intense game of volleyball between the student body and the Jesuit community. While the Jesuits on campus are known as an intellectual and peaceful bunch who seek to impart knowledge on impressionable students, on the night of Spike-a-Jesuit they turn into athletic tacticians with an insatiable passion for victory.
“I’m a bit of a twisted soul, but I look forward to this match the day after it’s finished,” Rev. Pat Rogers said. “I’m in charge of rallying up the Jesuits and it’s just a lot of fun, we talk it up a whole lot and the guys get really excited about it.”
Perhaps no fact is more indicative of this athletic fervor than the Jesuit’s undefeated record entering last year’s contest. That’s right. The Jesuit community was a perfect 8-0 entering the 2010 match. The students finally broke through to claim their first victory last year.
It is with this background—the students coming off their first win, the Jesuits their first loss—which the competitors met on the court on Tuesday.
After friendly introductions, the students put on their blue event t-shirts, and the Jesuits cloaked themselves in gray—the collars were off. The rivals took their sides, and play began.
It was clear from the first serve, and perhaps before, that the students had the advantage of youth and talent. More surprisingly, the Jesuits—who are usually adept at interpersonal dialogue—struggled due to a lack of communication, making the return of the ball an adventure on nearly every play. This team-wide struggle, combined with a group of students that showed no mercy when it came to thrashing overhead serves, led to a comfortable student victory in the first game of the match.
“It’s pretty simple, the students were really quite better than we were,” Rogers said, “Actually I’m pretty proud of ourselves because we’re a pretty old team and we get out there and we try and we scrape.”
The second game started more favorably for the Jesuits, as it was apparent their slightly older team was beginning to loosen up and settle into the flow of the match. However, the students overcame the Jesuit improvements to tie the score at 15-15 halfway through the match. After some brief back and forth play, the students went on a devastating rally, giving them the victory.
“We had numbers, that’s for sure,” Margaret Massimo (COL ’11), the organizer of the event, said. “We had a large team with a lot of enthusiasm so there was no one getting tired.”
This victory in the second game gave the students the match victory due to the best-of-three format. Despite the trophy already being awarded to Massimo and the students, the night was still young and both sides agreed to get back on the court to keep playing.
The third match was no contest, and the Jesuits reclaimed the glory attained in the event’s earlier years, demoralizing the students with a 25-10 victory.
“We started playing as a team, and we have age and wisdom on our side,” Matthew Carnes, S.J., said. “We talked to one another, passed, used some set spikes, and yeah, we played well.”
The Jesuits continued their dominating play in the fourth and final game. With the trophy in the students’ hands, the Jesuits were playing for pride and won handily, leveling the overall score for the night at 2-2.
Carnes credited a fundamental Jesuit skill as the reason for their proficiency and success in volleyball.
“Discernment,” he said. “Discerning the weaknesses on the other side, discerning your strengths, and using them to your advantage is what it’s all about.”
Although the rivalry is real, both sides recognize the importance of events that bring students and Jesuits together.
“It gives us a chance to really get to know each other and share our lives, happiness, challenges, and everything that happens on a court while playing a sport,” Carnes said.
That being said, the Jesuits would much prefer to promote this spirit of togetherness while taking home the trophy.
As he exited the court, Rogers took the opportunity to stoke the flames of this now decade-long rivalry in anticipation of next year’s match.
“The students better not get too full of themselves, because we will be back,” he said.