Monday, October 30, 2006

Rio Bravo Greeley Volleyball Tournament

This last Saturday a dozen of my volleyball players, my daughter and myself, an assistant coach and 12 or more parents met in the school parking lot at 5:30 AM and headed for Bakersfield to play a little volleyball.

The tournament started at 8:00 AM and we were scheduled to play in the 4th match of each of the two divisions we had teams signed up for. I was guessing that our first game would be around 8:45. We arrived at the school around 8:10 and discovered that the brackets had changed and our first games were actually happening around 8:30. But it was not a big deal we still had plenty of time to get our girls together, warmed up and ready to play. Or so we thought.

My older girls warmed up well and seemed ready to go, right up to the point where the whistle blew and the game started. I can’t really say what happened to my older team. They played 4 games in the pool play portion of the tournament. They finished their day with a 1-3 record and were eliminated from the afternoon bracket play.

It was a frustrating day for both my players and I. Individually they were playing well enough. But they just didn’t seem to get it together on the court. They missed some serves, and were struggling with their serve receives. But not more so than other games they have played. The first game was just ugly. We lost the game 12-21, but it wasn’t even that close. The second game we had a 20 - 16 lead in a game to 21 and lost 20-21. This has happened to us before when facing a really good server. But that wasn’t the case this time. Of the five consecutive points we gave up only one of them was a service ace. The other four were mishandled serves, sets or poor judgment plays. Poor judgment plays are things like the setter hitting the second hit over the net in a soft easy manner right into a hitter who slams it back over the net, or a hitter who gets a perfect set with no blocker and instead of swinging away tries a dink or off speed hit and fails to gets the ball over the net.

In our third game we had a 19-14 lead and eventually won that game 21-20 when my newest player pulled off her first ever blocked spike with the game tied at 20-20. In a day that was filled with judgment errors and mistimed plays this girl who has only been playing volleyball for 2 months found herself face to face across the net with an opponent five inches taller than her. Our opponent’s setter put up a beautiful set which her hitter slams across the net only to have the ball bounce off my blockers hands and roll straight down the net to land at our opponent’s feet. There was a long quiet pause and I stood half on the court and half off waiting for a signal from the referee. After what seemed like hours she signaled the point for us and the game win. It was by far the highlight moment of the day for my older girls.

The last game of pool play for my older girls was against a team who had lost to all three teams that we had already played. They were not very good, and seemed to be playing confused. Unfortunately we managed to play down to their level and we lost the game 16-21. This loss put us into a tie with them for last place in the pool. Unfortunately only four teams got to advance to the brackets.

I nervously loitered around the hallway where the brackets were posted waiting to see what tie breaker method they were going to employ. We had a 50 – 50 shot. If they used head to head results we were out. But if they used total points scored, we were in since we had outscored the team we were tied with 69 – 48 in four games. I wasn’t sure because they had broken one tie in another division with the head to head results. Then they broke a tie in the beginner division using total points scored. When the results were finally posted we were eliminated based on total points scored against us. The team we were tied with had allowed their opponents to score 79 points against them and we had allowed 81 points to be scored against us.

I really don’t understand this thinking. Our opponents four games ended 9-21, 9-21, 9-21 and 21-16. Our four games ended 12-21, 20-21, 21-20 and 16-21 but this method of tie breaker decided that their three losses by 12 points each (36 total) made them a better team than us with our three losses by a total of 15 points. But that is the way they did it there, so my older girls spent the afternoon watching our younger girls play.

My younger girls were a real delight and a surprise on Saturday. I took them to this tournament hoping that they might be able to pull out a surprise win or two. They surpassed my expectations to a degree I never expected. I missed all three of their pool play games because I was coaching the older girls. But after each match I would walk out into the hallway and be greeted by 6 very excited jumping and screaming athletes who had just won their game.

So my younger girls went into bracket play seeded first with an undefeated record. The tournament director split this division into two brackets with the top four teams playing in one bracket and bottom four teams playing in the other. This meant that our first match was a semifinal match. The team we were playing was pumped up and excited. Maybe they were overly excited, because we cruised to a pretty easy victory. Then in the second game my girls let down a bit and they smacked us right back. Our deciding third game was a close one. We ran out to a quick lead and then our opponents came roaring back.

It was this game that one of my setters discovered the joy of over-sets. I have practiced my girls at learning to watch for over-sets and to spike them back at their opponents. But they have not really responded to this. This is a skill that takes a lot of practice and experience to be successful at. Suddenly in this game my setter discovered why we call over-sets – Christmas presents. She jumped all over several of our opponent’s over-sets and I think I have created a monster. Now I have to teach her that you can’t attack everything. There is a point where the ball comes far enough over the net that she needs to set it instead of swinging at it. But that is for this week. I that third game we rode her spiking over-sets all the way to a 21-18 win and the finals in our tournament bracket.

Waiting for the finals bracket is where this tournament turned weird. We had almost two hours to wait so several of my parents took the girls out to the playground so they could eat lunch, goof off and wait for our court time without getting nervous.

During this time I was watching several of the other games. While standing around in the hallway between matches I was chit chatting with a couple other coaches in our division that were really pissed off. Their major gripe was the delay in playing. While I didn’t like the long lay over, it’s a tournament. Sometimes this stuff happens. But the delays got under these guys skin and now they were upset about other things. I was only half listening to their other complaints because they were all singling out the local teams and their coaches. I figured it was just sour grapes because they had lost to these teams. But they had all also lost to my team so I figured that they would be saying the same things about me to the local coaches.

But their major complaint was the gamesmanship that was being playing by the local coaches in collusion with the local referees. So I smiled and nodded and tried to stay noncommittal. I try to teach my girls to stay away from complaining about your opponents or the referees. Sometimes you just get outplayed and that doesn’t mean that they cheated to beat you, they just beat you.

Eventually our finals match rolled around against one of the local teams I had been warned about. I have to say our teams matched up pretty close in ability. They had a player that was probably better than any of my players. But I also think they had the 2 or 3 weakest players so it all balanced out. The games were pretty balanced also. Except for the gamesmanship…

The first game was pretty close, we got a lead, lost it, regained it, they started losing it again then suddenly my strongest server was at the line, she served 2 service aces and the other coach (without using her 1 time out) walked out onto the court and started shooing players who were standing around watching our game away from the court. She felt that they were crowding her server at the back line (We were serving!). The referee stood there and waited until she was done icing my server without calling a timeout then once the coach returned to the sidelines the referee restarted the game. We missed the next serve, but won the game anyway.

Second game we started out slow, and once we started getting back into the game, on the back of a service run, there was another “ice the server” timeout when the coach had to have the referee on the court next to us remove her water bottle so no one would step on it. This water bottle had been sitting on the base of the standard between the courts for an entire day, she never complained about it in the previous 7 games they had played on this court. But now that I had a service streak going and she had already used her time out she needed the referee to ice my server for her, and the referee obliged. We lost the second game, not because of our opponent’s coach’s gamesmanship. We lost because we didn’t play well enough.

So we move on to the third and final game of the day for these two games. I started my best server and she rattled off 3 straight service aces and sure enough, the opposing coach needed to stop the game to have four players from the game on the court next to us move away from our court. There had been players standing where they were all day and no one had complained. Suddenly now, that I have a hot server at the line, it’s a problem.

Well she got away with it again. This time I asked the referee “Did she call a time out to do that?” When she just stood there and stared at me without answering I responded with a sneer and a “Nice Sportsmanship!” The look on the referees face told me that she knew she and the other coach had been busted.

My team slowed down and bit and our opponents got back into the game, then with the score tied at 14s one of my players served a ball into the net to give our opponents a 15-14 lead and at that point the referee signaled the point and called the game over.

I went ballistic. The instructions in the hallway said that bracket games would be 2/3 to 21. In the only other 3 game match played that day (our semifinal match) we played all three games to 21. So with our opponents jumping around and screaming, my players standing around looking shocked that they had lost, two other teams running onto the court to start their match I tried protesting that they game was supposed to go to 21. The other coach immediately started shouting me down that we had lost and to get off the court. The referee simply said third game is to 15 and walked away.

I turned around and came face to face with the coach of the team that was to follow us onto the court and he asked “what’s up?” I said “They stopped the game at 15.” He immediately turned around and ordered all his girls off the court and looked over his shoulder at me and said “2 of 3 to 21 is the rule posted outside.” So armed with his tacit backing I approached the tournament director who was walking onto the court with the trophies for our teams. The opposing coach jumps in and says that I’m trying to extent the match against the rules. I presented my case in a loud voice in order to be heard. The tournament director tells me that all third games are played to 15.

I told her that was a change in written rules and precedent established by our semifinal match. To her credit she shushed the opposing coach, and went to check with the score keeper. When she discovered that we had played the only 3rd game in the division to a final of 21-18 she ordered both teams back onto the court to finish our game to 21.

My girls were confused, upset, and really not ready to play at that point, so after two ace serves by our opponents, the first of which was signaled by the referee and served while there were still 4 or 5 bystanders milling about on our side of the court I called a time out. The opposing coach immediately started demanding that the referee penalize us a point because I had already used my time out this game and therefore had just called an illegal timeout. This was not new to me. She had done the exact same thing when I called my timeouts in the first two games also. But the scorekeeper confirmed that I had indeed not called a timeout earlier so I was legal, just like she did in the first two games.

In the end we lost the game, and finished in second place. But it was a great day none the less. One classless coach was not going to ruin a great tournament and a fantastic second place finish for my girls.

I plan on taking my girls back to this tournament again next year. The director has always been fair and accommodating to us. I’m not going to blame her for the behavior of the host school coaches and referees. However next year I won’t be near as understanding and will file formal complaints with the tournament director as soon as this stuff starts happening. I’ll also probably not be a quick to ignore other coaches complaints as I was this year.

Unfortunately 2 of the 3 coaches who had been complaining to me probably won’t be as understanding. Their final comment to me as they left was, “There are lots of other tournaments around here to play in. We don’t need to be putting up with this crap at this one.”

No comments: