Friday, September 23, 2005

Volleyball 9/22

Last night was the 5th match for both my 7th and 8th grade teams. Both teams were fantastic, and aweful, all rolled up together.

My 7th grade team came out serving like maniacs. The first game was a massacre. Our opponents served first and failed to get the ball over the net. My first server served 5 aces. We sided out where our opponents served into the net. My second server, who for the last week has been the most consistant server on the team extended her streak of good serves with another 5 aces. After a side out, another missed serve by our opponents and then 5 more aces by my team we had an 18-0 lead. Unfortunately at this point several of my players noticed the scoreboard and they relaxed a little. Eventually we missed a couple serves, missed several serve receive opportunities and the game ended 25-8.

We changed sides of the court and I tried to get my players minds back into the game and concentrating on their serving and passing. I failed. Our opponenets were inspired not to get wiped out again and I just couldn't get my players back into the flow of the game again. We lost the second game close: 24-26.

Our match had started late because the gym had been locked and we had a hard time finding someone with a key. So by the time we finished our first two games our 45 minute time limit had expired. The league rules say that the match should stand as scored at the end of the time limit. Well no one wanted to leave with this match tied a one game each. The referee suggested that we only play to 10 points. So we started telling our players that when the two coaches who's match was scheduled to follow ours told us they would wait, just play the last game to the full 15 points. I told my team that we were back to a game to 15 again.

Everytime we have to play a third game I try to convince my players that we cannot afford to let our opponents get an early lead in these third games. Everytime I say that my players apparently hear "Let them have an early lead." Then we have to play catchup. Today was different. Our first server up was my newfound ace. So for the first time we were able start a third game with an early lead. Our serving and passing was a little off but my girls managed to finally put that match away 15-8.

We had a 45 minute wait for the 8th grade game to start. Fortunately for my one 7th grader who was playing with the 8th grade that day a couple of the other 8th graders showed up early. So she had someone to hang out with other than me.

The 8th grade team played their match just like I always knew they could. This team has been averaging 5 serving error per game and almost 10 serve receive errors per game. In this match they didn't reach those numbers for the entire three games.

The 8th grade came out serving, passing, setting and spiking and they did that the whole match. It was beautiful to watch. They won the first game 25-18. Unfortunately they had a couple bounces go against them and some judgement errors led them to an 18-25 loss in the second game.

The third game started with my team playing like their old selves - just standing around. Our opponents ran up a quick lead, just like I always tell the team not to let them do. Finally we got to a rotation where I had three strong servers in a row coming to the line to serve. The team was down 6-13 and the first of three servers came to the line and served a shot that bounced off an opponents hands into the crowd in the bleachers. This got us to 7-13. Then as my server got the ball back one of her teammates on the bench hollers out to her "You might not want to touch that ball it hit Alex in the face." I turned to see what the heck that was all about and my server turned towards the player on the bench and the two of them start discussing the boy who had gotten hit in the head with the ball. Meanwhile the referee blows the whistle for her to serve. I was so stunned I was speachless. We are in a game three, losing 7-13 and my server who now has 5 seconds to serve is chit-chatting about boys! Fortunately our referee is pretty lax on the 5 second rule. My server suddenly breaks off the conversation turns back to the court and hurriedly serves an underhand serve - under the net.

I wanted to scream! I was so angry, so shocked I couldn't react. I was inhaling in order to explode at my players as soon as the other team served the winning point when my assistant coach who was scorekeeping for the game started repeatedly screaming at me - "Call time out!" Her yelling finally registered through my foggy brain and I managed to call timeout before our opponents served. Which was pretty easy because the ref was looking at me wondering when I was going to start listening to the scorekeeper.

I took a deep breath, walked over to my players while reminding myself that we are a Catholic School and it would probably be frowned upon if I strangled a couple players right there in the middle of the court. I briefly considered just baning their heads together and then rejected that approach. I was considering sending them both out to run about a thousand laps when I opened my mouth and "Everyone take a slow deep breath" came out instead. Then I told them I wanted "One-Good-Pass. Nothing else mattered in this game, in their lives, or on the planet right now except One-Good-Pass! One-Good-Pass! One-Good-Pass! One-Good-Pass!"

I was still mouthing those three words when our opponents served and my team gave me One-Good-Pass, which fortunately was followed by a pretty good set and a passable spike. I was still so shocked and stunned by the previous play that I couldn't even congratulate the setter or the spiker on that play. I just looked straight into the next server's eyes and told her - "One-Good-Serve!"

At this point my daughter who has always been a wonderful underhand server, but struggles with her overhand serve, and who I have told this season is not allowed to serve underhand because she needs to improve her overhand serve, moved to the service line. She was facing a 8-14 deficit and knew that a missed serve would give the game and match to our opponents.

As a father I wanted to scream at her "Serve it underhand!" As a coach I wanted to see how well she would respond to the preasure. So as I stood there, conflicted, and arguing with myself while my little girl served five straight overhand aces.

So we rotated to a new server who is now down only 13-14. But a bad serve is going to cost us the game. This server was a 7th grade player who was subbing with the 8th grade team for that match. But is one of the smartest players I have. I told her two weeks ago that her service method was her choice. She has a good underhand serve and has been improving with her overhand serve. Usually she will serve her first serve underhand, and if comfortable will serve overhand after that. Her serve routine always includes two or three dribbles, a quick glance at me in case I have anything to tell her, a quick glance at the score, a glance at the net, and if the whistle has blown during that process, she serves. This time she walked back there and dribbled the ball twice, and with her head down, never looking my direction she waited for the whistle. After it blew she glances quickly at the net and served an underhand ace to the deep center court.

This ace tied the game at 14-14. As the ball rolled back to this very determined 7th grader I was thinking "serve it underhand" at her as hard as I could. She had missed 4 overhand serve attempts earlier that day in the 7th grade match, and she had missed one in the first 8th grade game. She is now in her 6th game of the afternoon and I knew she was getting tired. But I refused to tell her that. I had told her it was her choice and I wanted her to learn to make that choice a good one. She did. She set up with her same old routine which I took to mean that she was going to overhand serve just like she always does. But instead she underhand served it again.

Unfortunately that ball was returned. A couple volleys later my team had lost that game 14-16.

I have never been prouder of, and at the same time angrier at, that team in the three seasons I have been coaching them. They played the best match I have ever seen them play. But the biggest problem that this team has is staying in the moment and concentrating on the game. That break down at the end of the third game was the worst one I have ever seen.

Now being a small private school we place our attention on making the girls better volleyball players, better student athletes, and better teammates. Winning is a plus, but not our main emphasis. Which is good. Because I wanted nothing more than to look two of those little girls straight in the eyes and tell them to turn their uniforms in. Fortunately I didn't. I have had a day to stew about the situation and it wasn't a kick-them-off-the-team offense. But I think it will deserve a couple extra conditioning reps at monday's practice.

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