Last year I took my 8th grade team to the El Tejon Volleyball Tournament that is held at ElTejon High School in Lebec, CA. We had fun, finished in fourth place and decided to give that tournament a shot again this year.
The tournament started at nine in the morning and the director was kind enough to schedule out first pool play game for around 10:30 so we didn't need to leave so early in the morning. (Its about a 2 hr and 15 minute drive for us)
We ended up in a pretty tough pool. When the pool play was over we were in third place out of five teams. The top four got to play in the brackets that afternoon.
We started the day playing the eventual 4th place finishers in our pool. We jumped out to an early lead and managed to hold on to finish the game 25-18. Our second game was against the eventual 2nd place finisher in our pool. In all honesty this team was better than mine. They controlled their emotions better when the game was close. My team was playing well but in the little things the other team was better. They ran a more consistent offense and their defense was moving better.
Our third game was against the eventual 5th place team in the pool. We didn't play well, committing more hitting errors than kills but still managed to win 25-15. Our fourth pool play game was against the thus far undefeated, and eventual pool winner. This was also our best game of the day. This team had two large hitters who had pretty good serves to go along with their front row attacks. Their defense was quick and covered the court well. My team started out a little slow. Then they got panicky when the other team started scoring and they were not able to answer. I used my only timeout of the game when we were down 4 to 12. I managed to get my team to relax a little. When the game started again we gave up 2 more quick points and then things turned around. Then over the next several minutes I got to watch my team play the best volleyball I have ever seen these girls play. Unfortunately the streak of great volleyball came to an end with the game tied at 24-24. We got caught when a mishandled serve came flying back at the net, clipped the tape at the top and dribbled over onto our side of the court. In a normal game we would have a chance to get that point back, but the tournament rules were games to 25, cap at 25. It was not necessary to win by 2 points.
The eventual pool winner ended up beating us and the second place team both by scores of 25-24. Like I said it was a tough pool. We came within one point of a three way tie for first, but in the end settled for third place.
In the quarterfinals we played against the number 2 seed from the other pool. That pool must have been a pretty weak pool, as my team didn't play well, but we still managed a 30 to 20 win. (bracket play in this tournament was one game to 30 with a cap at 30)
In the semifinals we had to play the winner from our pool. The team we had lost to 24-25 just an hour earlier. We didn't give them a 10 point lead in this game. Instead we managed to stay with them for the entire game, but it was a roller coaster ride. They would get a 3 or 4 point lead and then we would get one. Then they would get a lead and we would have to take it back. Unfortunately the game ended with us on the short end of 30 - 28 loss.
My teams emotions were all over the chart. They were sad about losing, but at the same time thrilled that they had played two really good games against a really good team. Then as we were picking up our stuff to head home they announced that there was a third place game to be played between the two semifinal losers. (this game was not on the schedule) So we had to jump right back on the court and play another game against the second team place team from our pool.
In retrospect I wish we had never played that last game. I would have rather taken my girls home after that close loss in the semis than have to sit there on the sidelines and watch what happened in the consolation game. We exchanged points for a couple rallys then my team just lost all their focus. I called a time out once we were down about 5 points. But it didn't help. My girls still kept playing, but they had no focus or drive. We committed just about every error you can imagine. Eight missed serves in a row. Spikes that went long, wide right, wide left, and into the net. Passes that went out of bounds left, right, under the net, and into the backs of our teammates. That game ended with us on the very wrong end of a 13-30 walloping. I'm sure it was less fun for my girls to play than it was for me to watch. I hated it.
Saturday morning I watched my girls put on the best demonstration of how to never give up when they pulled off a huge comeback that almost became a fantastic win. Then a couple hours later I watched them completely self destruct. I think this group of six girls has the potential to be the best team I have ever coached in my admittedly limited five years experience. I just have to keep them motivated so that they don't turn into the worst team. Because as I saw Saturday, they can play both ways.
I'm very proud as their coach with the way my team handled themselves on Saturday. I am also very proud of the way they played. I just have to figure out what I need to do as their coach to keep them out of situations like that last game.