Saturday, November 10, 2007

Eighth Grade Tournament

After the mixed emotions I left the Seventh Grade Trona Tournament last night I was a little nervous about this mornings eighth grade tournament. My eighth grade team has turned out to be rather schizophrenic. One game they can play like they are unbeatable, the next moment they are losing scrimmage matches to my sixth grade team.

Unfortunately I had to start out the tournament by benching two of my players. In the last two weeks we had five practices. Two of them were for the eighth grade team only. One of my players skipped three of those five practices. I suspect that she only showed up for the last two because her teammates told her I was thinking of not playing her at the tournament. Since on of my other players had also missed the last eighth grade only practice I had decided to make them both sit out the first game of the tournament.

Fortunately for one of them I found out after I told her she had to sit out a game that the last two eighth grade practices that she skipped were not the only ones. She had skipped all three eighth grade only practices that my assistant coach had held for them.

So we started the pool play part of the tournament with four eighth grade players and my starting setter and fifth grade player from the seventh grade team. They all started a bit slow and out of sorts and we let Edwards AFB get a bit of a lead. The girls were starting to get their act together and really start playing but ran out of time and we lost that first game 17-19. Yeah, they play pool play games to 19 in this tournament.

We switched sides of the court and I put all six eighth grade girls on the court. They beat that team 19-15.

The rest of the pool play was fairly uneventful. I subbed my two volunteer substitutes into a couple more games when the circumstances allowed. It was much more comfortable on the sidelines knowing that I had recourses available to me as a coach if things started going badly for the team.

We finished pool play in a tie with the Edwards AFB team. Since we had split our pool play games they moved onto the total points scored tiebreaker that we won by the two point difference in our head to head games.

Winning our pool gave us a bye in the first round of the brackets, an automatic spot in the semifinals and a short while to rest.

In the semifinals against Murray Middle School, the other pool play team that we split with, my players finally started playing the kind of volleyball that I have known they could play all season. They stormed onto the court and roared out to a 22-5 game. Then as thought someone flipped a switch they turned off. Murray managed to score ten points before we finished the game 25-15.

This put us in the finals against Edwards AFB. This team was essentially the same team that my eighth grade team lost to in the finals last year in the seventh grade division. So we were out looking for a little revenge. The girls were nervous and definitely overexcited in the pregame huddle. I had to start three times to get them all to stop babbling and listen to me. I tried to convince them that when the whistle blew for that first serve this stoppe being about revenge, it stopped being about a championship and it stopped being about what they worked all season for (all things they were saying to each other). When the first whistle blows none of that matters anymore. Once this game starts it is only about playing volleyball. I only wanted them thinking about serving, passing, setting and hitting. Five of them seemed to listen and settle down a little bit. The sixth one, my second setter who kept skipping practice was still breathing hard, looking flushed in the face and her eyes were darting all over the place.

The game started out badly with my girls shanking four straight passes to give Edwards a 4-0 lead. Then we got a lucky break off an Edwards error and got the serve back. We exchanged points for a while and slowly started making up the deficit. We took our first lead at 16-15. Once we had the lead the whole team really settled in a started playing. We ran our lead up to 22-17 when Edwards called a time out. I hate when the opposing team calls timeout in situations like this. I never know what to say to my team. Just saying “You’re playing great. Their coach is nervous, that’s why she called timeout. Just keep doing what you are doing.” But somehow it always seems insufficient. But it was all I had today, so I used it again.

The time out really worked for Edwards though. They scored a couple a quick points and that is when my opposite setter started panicking again. She totally abandoned our offense and started hitting all the second hits either into the net, out of bounds or setting them right to the Edwards front line. When the game was 23-22 in out favor I used a time out. I told my panicking setter that I didn’t need any heroes out on the court right now. I needed 6 volleyball players. If she couldn’t do her job and set up the hitters then I had two players standing right next to me who would live a chance to do that for her.

(God, I love having substitute players available.)

We got back on the court and watched them serve into the net. So my girls returned the favor with a net serve of their own. Then with us sitting at game point, 24-23, Edward’s best server came up to the line and smoothly, calmly, served the ball out of bounds.

A couple of parents told me that they wished the game would have not ended that way but that they could have won playing offense instead of off an opponents mistake. I immediately disagreed. In a game like that I will take any win I can get.

So this is the new Middle School Eighth Grade Volleyball Champions:

8th grade Champions

The girls wearing or holding onto the ribbons were selected to the all tournament team. The one in the back row holding the plaque was selected as Tournament Most Valuable Player. I wasn’t sure about that award until I got home and watched the video my daughter had recorded for me. Despite a couple rough spots in the pools games she had a good day and made some really good plays in the last two games. So I had to agree with the tournament officials on that choice. But it was nice to see later when the director showed me his tally sheet he used to make those selections. There were four girls on my team with almost equal MVP scores. He was actually relieved when the winner finally made a couple big hits late in the finals match to distance herself from the others. He told me he was afraid that he was going to have to pick one himself and he didn’t want to do that. I understand exactly how he felt. I wouldn’t have wanted to make that choice either.

I got a lot of congratulations from many people after the tournament. Most of whom seemed a little put off when I would answer “Thank you, but you should congratulate the girls, they did all the work.”

So my middle school season is almost over. Tomorrow afternoon we have a pizza party and volleyball games party to celebrate the end of the season.

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