Saturday, November 10, 2007

Seventh Grade Tournament

Today marked the official end of my middle school volleyball season. Last night my seventh grade and sixth grade teams traveled over the hill and through Poison Canyon to Trona, CA. Trona Middle/High School has hosted the Indian Wells Valley Middle School Championship Tournament.

The previous two years my teams have done pretty good in the tournament. Two years ago our seventh grade team won the seventh grade division championship. Last year my seventh grade team finished in second place, while my eighth grade team knocked off two times defending champion’s Lone Pine. So we had a lot riding on a good performance this year.

Since I play both 6th and 7th grade teams in the seventh grade division I had two teams to take to the seventh grade tournament this year. Since we often have two games going at once my assistant coach opted to coach the 6th grade team and I took the 7th grade.

My sixth grade team were the darlings of the tournament. They didn’t win any games, but they wowed everyone who watched them play. This team finished the regular season with a 4-4 match record. But not all the teams we played then showed up for this tournament. Most of the schools that had multiple 7th grade teams combined them to take one team of their top players to the tournament. So the level of competition was a lot higher than my youngest girls were expecting. But they really stepped up to the plate.

My beginners were hustling, hurrying, and playing better than I have ever seen them play before. The lost all their games, but not by much. In most cases the point spread at the end of the games was less than 4 points.

In a pool play game against Murray Middle School, the eventual tournament champions, in a single game to 19, my girls led or were even throughout the game until Murray finally got their first lead at 25-24 and finally won the game 26-24.

My 6th grade team played 5 consecutive games with only a couple minutes between them. But they never wavered. They got hungry and they got tired but they just kept playing. Eventually they were eliminated from the tournament at the end of the round robin play. But that may have been just as well. I’m not sure they had too many games left in them. They were all pretty gassed by that time.

After the tournament both my assistant coach and I were approached by several parents and coaches for the other schools who just wanted to let us know how much they enjoyed watching that team play. I have to agree with them. They were really a blast to watch play last night.

I am already looking forward to having these girls back again next year. I’m going to have a great seventh grade team.

My seventh grade team had a much different evening. I have had trouble with this team all season. I started the season with only 5 seventh grade players. After the first practice I picked one of the two 5th grade players that I had added to the team to fill in the sixth spot on the seventh grade team. This caused a lot of trouble for a couple of the seventh grade players who didn’t want her on the team because of her age. It finally took the threat to throw one player off the team and a frank explanation to the other that she back off because that fifth grade player was a better volleyball player than she was.

So we plodded though the season with my starting setter and a fifth grader with some occasional help from the other setter trying to carry a team with one player who usually doesn’t show up for practice and when she does, plays like she doesn’t care. Another player who runs all over the court, jumping in front of her teammates so that she can hit 75% of the balls she touches out of bounds, and a player who wants to play, wants to be good, and has improved a lot since last year, when she isn’t crying. Which she does whenever she makes a mistake, when a teammate makes a mistake, when the ball almost hits her or when they are losing.

My seventh grade team finished the regular season with a 7-2 record. So they showed up at the tournament expecting to win. Which I kept telling them was going to be a struggle. Since like I said, these weren’t the same teams we played against during the regular season.

We stumbled through the round robin part of the tournament with a 4-2 record which made us the second seed tournament in the brackets. This is when the tournament turned ugly when my seventh grade team turned into zombies. At least that is what they looked like every time I called a time out and they would huddle around me. It was like looking into the eyes of the walking undead. Four of the six players just stood there staring blankly into space, which is pretty much the same way they were playing on the court. My starting setter and the fifth grader were the only ones showing any signs of life. Unfortunately they were trying so hard to make something happen that they kept making mistakes themselves.

We went down in flames in the brackets losing in the semifinals to the host team from Trona. Then we lost the third place game to our next door neighbors Monroe Middle School. As painful as it was to watch my players lose the way they did it was kind of fun watching how excited the Monroe team was when they won. I was talking to their coach this afternoon and he let slip that the excitement with their third place win was almost non-existent to the fact that they had won that game against us. Apparently his girls had been psyching themselves up all week and had gone to the tournament with one goal in mind – Beat Saint Ann’s.

I really have my hands full with this team next year. I have some new coaching skills to master. I have been working with these girls for two years now and four of them still cannot pass a volleyball. So I have to find a way to teach them to pass because that was what cost us that tournament last night – the complete inability to pass a volleyball.

I think we hit rock bottom in the semifinal game when we let an opponent serve 7 straight service aces on us – underhand. It was not a hard underhand serve either. We got our hands on all seven serves and passed all seven of them either OB right, OB left, under the net or backwards.

I think it was at that point where I decided that I do not want to coach teams next year that only have 6 players on them. I need substitutes. Last night I had three girls who absolutely did not belong on that court playing volleyball. I was sorely tempted in the middle of the semifinal game to call three of my sixth grade players down out of the bleachers and sub them into the game. But instead I decided to let this group do down in flames all by themselves.

I’m hoping that losing that way and having to watch the tournament organizers award all-tournament honors to the starting setter and the fifth grade player over the other four seventh grade players will get them to realize that next season they need to stop crying, start coming to practice, start caring, start making smart plays, and above all – learn how to control a pass.

So I came home last night with mixed feelings. I was disappointed with my seventh grade team. I was disappointed with myself that I let them get this far without teaching them better. But I was thrilled with the heart and determination that my sixth grade players showed in their first tournament.

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