Friday, October 20, 2006

End of the Regular Season

Yesterday was the end of the regular season for my three volleyball teams. We aren’t done playing yet. We still have two scrimmages and two tournaments left to play.

The schedule for my teams was rather unbalanced. My sixth grade team only had 5 games on their schedule, my seventh grade team had eight and my eighth grade team was to play seven matches.

I would have liked for a more balanced schedule, a few more games for the each team, especially the 6th graders. But, since the public schools in town don’t even let their sixth grade students play volleyball I look at my sixth grade team as a training squad. The matches they play are good experience for next year. Mostly I want them at practice learning the skills they will need for next year.

The matches they play are against the other seventh grade teams in town. I don’t expect much from them except that they work hard and improve over the course of the season. Well this group of 6 girls really surprised me this season. They went 2-3 in their five matches. They almost won their last one which would have given them a winning record. But they started to panic a bit in the third game when it got close and missed several key plays as a result. The ability to deal with kind of pressure comes with experience, which is why I try and play my sixth grade students, to get them some valuable experience.

Each year I have a couple sixth grade players who really catch on quick so I try and push them a little harder. This year I had two players who were ready for a tougher challenge. So I had them playing with my seventh grade team on occasion. Twice I even had them fill in for missing players on my 8th grade team.

I’m pretty proud of how my 6th grade team played this year. The started out with 7 players and lost one just before we actually started playing games. We had one girl who decided during the first couple weeks of practice that volleyball just wasn’t her game and she didn’t want to play any longer. I tried to talk her out of quitting but she was adamant about it. So we played the season with only six players. The only other school in town playing their sixth grade athletes is Emmanuel Christian. Their coach and I set up a scrimmage for our players early in the season to get our girls some game experience before their first game. My sixth grade team handled them pretty easily then. But several weeks of practice made a world of difference for them. The last match for my sixth grade girls was against Emmanuel again. They were a much different team this time. Their coach and I have been talking about improving our programs year to year and she is really starting to make a difference over there. Our teams split the first two games and had to play a decisive third. Emmanuel got out to a small lead early and that is when my girls started panicking. Eventually Emmanuel prevailed in a close match to end my sixth grade team’s regular season with a 2-3 record.

My seventh grade team pretty much ruled their division this year. They played 8 matches as a team and won all of them with a 2-0 game record. Like the sixth grade my seventh grade players started out with 7 players on their team. But one of them quit after just two days of practice. According to her mother I was pushing the girls too hard and making them work too hard, which is funny because I hadn’t really started pushing them yet. Even more ironic is that her mother has a small business called Strong Woman Enterprises. It’s a shame she doesn’t expect the same strength in her daughter that she professes in her business.

All of my seventh grade players got to play in a lot more than their eight matches. I only had four eighth grade players so I had to fill in with seventh and sixth grade players.

I put a lot of attention into my eighth grade team. These are the four girls who I have to get ready to try out for the freshman team in high school next fall. My eighth grade team had seven matches on their schedule. Each of my six seventh grader players and two sixth grade players played in at least one of the eighth grade matches. I kept trying different combinations of players trying to find an optimum lineup. I have a couple that worked pretty well but never came up with a definitive group of six girls that really meshed together. I would find one group that would play great one game and then barely squeak by the next.

In the end they played well enough. My eighth grade won all their matches to finish the regular season with a 7-0 record. It was close at the end though. On Tuesday I sent my two sixth grade players over to play with the eighth grade because I wanted to keep all six of the seventh grade players together for practice. We started running a 6-2 offense last week and they were still a little unsure of the setter rotations.

My eighth grade team and the two sixth graders ran into a much improved team from Trona. After losing the first game we came back strong to win the second. We got out to a fast start in the third game and then fell apart. Trona was making a comeback and came close to evening the game when time ran out and the referees called the game.

Yesterday was out last regular season game. My eighth grade team had to play against the only other undefeated eighth grade team from Monroe Middle School. Behind some great serving from my two setters we cruised to an easy first game victory. The second game was a lot different. We struggled at the beginning and ended up giving up several serves in a row. Eventually we started getting our act together. But by then we had let them have an 11-3 lead. My girls were getting a little panicked. I called a time out and tried to convince them to stay with their offense and keep concentrating on pass-set-spike and not worry about the score. Amazingly enough they actually listened and did that. It was slow and extremely nerve racking but slowly we managed to match each point they won with 2 or 3 of our own. Eventually we prevailed 25-22 to preserve a 7-0 match record.

Now we have a couple weeks to really get ready. We have a tournament in Bakersfield next week that will have some much better teams than any we have faced so far this year. Then the following Saturday we have our local tournament in Trona. I think we can handle the local teams, but Lone Pine will be sending a team or two to this tournament. We scrimmaged against them two weeks ago and lost both of those games. We were in them, but just couldn’t prevail. I think it was a good wake up call for my players. It showed them that the local middle school volleyball here in Ridgecrest has a way to go to compete with teams from the neighboring towns. We are working on improving our program but we still have a way to go. The differences in this year’s teams and last years are remarkable. They have come a long way. We’re not there yet and I have two weeks to try and get them closer before the season ends.

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