Stranded, flooded, evacuated …
Houston is not only the fourth-largest city in the country, it’s one of the most significant volleyball areas in America.
The volume of players and talent that Houston produces is the lifeblood of not only Texas colleges, but many programs nationwide.
What’s more, Houston is the home to a number of Division I schools, including Rice, Houston, Houston Baptist and Texas Southern, with plenty of others nearby.
Such as Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, which is now, in essence, in the midst of what will turn out to be a two-week road trip.
The effects of Hurricane Harvey on volleyball are, accordingly, no small thing as the rain continues to drench Houston.
Teams that left for the opening weekend can’t get back. Parents who went to watch their daughters play, not necessarily for Texas teams, are in the same predicament. And that’s to say nothing about the many high school seasons that have already been disrupted and prep and club facilities that have been flooded.
What’s more, one of the more enticing early season gatherings is scheduled for this weekend at Texas A&M when No. 1 Stanford and No. 5 Penn State are set to visit the school in College Station located about 95 miles northwest of Houston. Texas A&M canceled classes Monday and Tuesday, but a Texas A&M spokesperson said Monday afternoon the matches are still on.
Everything could change, especially as the storm appears poised to regroup and dump way more rain on south Texas.
Rice opened its season at SMU near Dallas, losing to Texas A&M Corpus Christi before beating SMU and Mississippi State. Then the Owls drove over to Fort Worth on Sunday and lost to TCU.
By then getting back to Houston was impossible. Luckily Waco — where Baylor is located — is between Dallas and Houston, and Rice went there. That’s because Baylor president Linda Livingstone is the mother of junior outside hitter Shelby Livingstone.
“They brought us in last night and we ate dinner at her house and we’re staying at a hotel right now,” Rice’s Genny Volpe said. “We’re honestly just trying to figure out what to do next. It’s kind of a day-to-day process. We’re trying to keep up with the news in Houston, my administration is pretty much on an hourly schedule in crisis management trying to come up with the best plan for everybody.
“We’re good, we’re safe, but, yeah, we’re kind of in a holding pattern.”
Volpe, who lives northwest of Houston in Cypress, said her own home did not flood and that her husband, John, and two kids are there, and “he says the roads are flooded around the neighborhood, so he can’t get out, and a lot of people in our area are just hunkering down and trying to wait it out before going anywhere.”
Volpe said as best as they know, her assistant coaches’ homes are OK, but the family of sophomore setter Adria Martinez, who is from just north of Houston in Spring, packed up before the weekend and even brought the family dog. They’re all with the team in Waco.
“There’s a pretty high level of stress going on, just trying to figure out what’s going on with the homes, but I’ve got to say everyone is handling it really, really well,” Volpe said.
“The Rice campus, from what we know right now, is OK. There was a lot of water and there were some videos posted with cars submerged.”
Volpe’s daughter, Alice Marie, plays club volleyball for Houston Juniors and its director, Stephanie Rhodes, painted a tough picture for a lot of her families.
The Houston Juniors facility is OK, she said, and Rhodes’ own house didn’t flood.
“We’re blessed, but we can’t go two miles in any direction without being affected by it.”
Many of them live southwest of Houston in an area called Sienna Plantation and they were told to evacuate on Monday. That includes one of her coaches, former Olympic great Tara Cross-Battle.
“About 40 percent of my families have been told to evacuate,” Rhodes said.
One Houston Juniors players, Skylar Fields, played in Argentina with USA Volleyball and her parents went to watch. Now they can’t get back.
“They’re in Argentina until Wednesday,” Rhodes said. “And they also live in Sienna Plantation so they won’t be able to get to their homes. They’re being told they won’t be able to get to their homes for two to three weeks.”
A large percentage of LSU players the past two decades, for example, have come from Houston.
“There are so many kids playing volleyball in this country — all over the country — from the city of Houston and surrounding areas, and there are a lot of displaced families and parents away from their kids,” LSU coach Fran Flory said.
In LSU’s case, the parents of freshman Raigen Cianciulli traveled to Tampa this past weekend to watch the Tigers and left two of her siblings back home in Houston, Flory said.
“So they got in a car in Tampa and drove all the way to Shreveport (in northwest Louisiana, far north of Houston) and they were trying to cut south and get as close as they could safely to Houston,” Flory said.
Club directors Jen Woods of Houston Skyline, Katy Garza of Absolute Volleyball and Joe Lind of TAV Houston reported that their facilities in various places in the Houston area are OK.
Like Houston Juniors, Skyline has a lot of families in Sienna Plantation.
“It’s been rough,” Woods said, “and Katy’s a mess. We have a lot of families there, too. We’re waiting to hear from a lot of them.”
Texas Southern coach Jocelyn Adams said her campus is OK but more less impossible to get in and out of. She lives in Cypress and her home is OK. TSU played this past weekend at Houston Baptist and lost to the home team before matches against South Alabama, Texas Tech and Northern Kentucky were canceled.
“On campus all is well and the kids are safe and they have them sheltered in place,” Adams said.” But you can’t get to the campus because of the roads.
Texas Southern is scheduled to go east to Beaumont, Texas, Friday and play Louisiana Tech, fellow SWAC team Southern and host Lamar.
The University of Houston also went north for the weekend, losing to McNeese State, beating Southern and losing to host Texas-Arlington. Coach Kaddie Platt and her team have stayed in Arlington. Houston is scheduled to play George Mason, Penn and Central Michigan this weekend in Fairfax, Va.
Rice is scheduled to go to Colorado this weekend for matches against Wake Forest, Abilene Christian and Colorado. The Owls will stay in Waco again Monday night and will practice at Baylor on Tuesday.
“I’ve been getting a ton of texts from college coaches all over the county, checking in on me and the team,” Volpe said. “It’s pretty amazing all the help they’ve offered. Former parents have all been asking if we need anything. We feel a lot of love.”
Talk about feeling the love, the Islanders of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi are getting it from SMU. As it turns out, Corpus Christi made out better than some places on the Texas coast.
Let coach Steve Green, whose team — with quite a few players from the Houston area — beat Rice and then lost to Mississippi State and SMU, tell the story.
“We left campus Thursday morning because we were going to play up at SMU anyway. I decided to bring the family just in case. Campus was supposed to have move-in on Thursday. Obviously volleyball’s been there for a few weeks. But they canceled move-in. Classes were supposed to start today but they’re postponed until at least next Tuesday. So nobody’s on campus but I hear campus looks more or less OK except for a few roof issues. We didn’t get nearly as much rain as expected so there was no flooding issue.
“But we stayed up at SMU. And SMU has been so great. I could not even tell you how nice they’ve been. There’s accommodating and then there’s going out of your way to make it easy. They’ve done everything from come to our hotel to pick up laundry from us to allowing us to practice in their gym. They’ve basically taken us in and have been way too nice.”
Accordingly, the Islanders will stay there through Wednesday and they fly to Michigan State, where they play San Diego State, Marshall and the Spartans.
“So basically we’re on a two-week road trip,” Green said with a laugh.
He said that the homes of his Houston-area players are all reported OK.
“I’ve got a home I still own in Houston that I still own that’s probably under water,” Green said. laughing again. “But Corpus fared fairly well.”