Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mandatory No. 5

Sorry for not getting this posted earlier. I had to get things prepared for Sports Night at St. Ann School.

Mandatory No. 5 found our Starlings back in Division 12. we had briefly played in division 12 back in Mandatory No. 2. The results then were not pretty. After finishing first in Mandatory 4 we were elevated again to Division 12. I was looking forward to this opportunity. We are a much better team now than we were back in March. However, the teams that are in Division 12 now, were also much better teams than they were a couple months ago.

We played at Gahr High School in Cerritos, CA. Gahr High School is right at the intersection of the 605 and 91 freeways. So we had a ways to travel to get there on Saturday morning. Fortunately we were the number four seed in our pool, so we didn’t have to play or officiate the first match. We arrived at the gym around 8 AM. This means that I missed the coaches meeting so I didn’t get to be lectured for the 8th time this season about not letting my team trash the gym, climb on things that are not meant to be climbed on, or take too long on the court. Remember folks we are there to play volleyball and we are there to play it quickly.

Our first match of the day was against the Cal Jrs 14-C team. This team eventually won our pool. They were a good eye-opening experience for my players. This was really the first team we have ever faced that served like a volleyball game is supposed to be served. Of the 9 players on their roster, six of them could fire hard, serves that cleared the net by only inches. They could also hit those serves where ever they wanted them to go. Their coach watched our team during warm-ups and for the first few minutes of play then she started directing her servers where to serve. They immediately targeted both of the younger players that I had playing in the back row. As a result, my two younger players spent most of this match getting creamed by hard serves.

Of course I had options to try and stop this. I could have called time outs to try and ice the server. But in my experience that seldom works if the server is truly good at what she is doing. Icing a server only works with a weaker server who suddenly finds themselves on a hot streak. Usually taking a time out during a hard service run is done more to allow the receiving team a few moments to collect themselves and to get ready to play again. I also could have subbed those players out of the game. But all that would accomplish is to teach them that I don’t have any faith in their ability to handle a tough situation.

So I kept a close watch on my young players and let them get pounded, as long as they didn’t start losing faith in themselves. Four times on that Saturday I watch these two young players get repeatedly hit with rocket serves and after four or five shanked receive attempts I would finally start to see their shoulders droop or their faces start looking at the floor. Each time I would give them one more receive then I was going to call for a sub and get them out of there before they completely lost faith in themselves. Every time I decided that it was time to pull that struggling player they would manage to pop one of those hard serves back into the air and suddenly we were playing volleyball again.

Yes, we had a hard time handling our opponent’s serves. And yes, we didn’t dominate our opponents with our serves the way we had done in some previous matches. But once the ball was received and in play, we were every bit as good or better team than our opponents were. Our defense was as good as our opponents and our hitting and blocking was better than any of the three teams we faced that day. In all three matches we played, by the middle of the first game our opponents were not hitting, and not blocking and any aggressiveness at the net that they may have shown early in the match was non-existent by the end of the match.

We lost our first match to the Cal Jrs. 18-25 and 15-25. Which isn’t bad playing against a team that had recorded four consecutive division 12, 2nd place finishes in the first four mandatory tournaments. Especially considering that our serves were not working and we were really struggling on serve receives.

Our second match was against a team from the Impact Volleyball Club. This team was having a rough year. They started in Division 8 for Mandatory 1. After 4 straight 4th place finishes they were finally down to division 12. But this does not mean that this was a bad team. They were good enough to have won at least one match in division 8, 10 and 11 on their way to division 12. Again we were facing a team that served a lot better than we were receiving. Again, we were facing a team that was targeting those serves at our younger players.

We managed to get a few more of those hard serves into the air where our offense could go to work. As a team we only committed three service errors and our hitting kept the game close. We were down 23-24 when Sammi crushed a spike right at the back line of their court. Everyone on the court looked at the linesman who was very obviously not paying attention to the game. This clueless 14 year old waffled back and forth between signaling in or out for a few seconds. Then she looked at our opponents and noticed all of them signaling out. So she joined in and signaled out. The referee who’s line of sight was blocked on the play went along with his linesman call. Game over 23-25. After the match three different people who were paying attention told me that the spike was in by at least 6 inches. Oh well. We had given up 24 other points in that game to get us into that situation. But I am getting really tired of coaches who will send players out onto a court to call lines or keep score without making sure that first) their players know what they are doing, and secondly) who will not stick around and keep an eye on their players to make sure they are paying attention.

This close loss seemed to encourage our opponents a bit. They played better in the second game. They definitely served a lot better. I think they realized that their hard serves were their best offensive weapon to use against us. Eventually they won that game 17-25.

Our third match was against the No. 3 seed in our pool, a team from the Stealth Volleyball Club. This team had played the last two tournaments in division 12 after starting the season in division 10. So again they had a lot of experience playing against higher division teams. The only difference was that while they also had great servers, they had the same difficulties receiving hard serves as we did.

During the two games we played against them we had 5 different servers with service runs of more than 5 serves in a row. Once our Starlings figured out that they could match this team serve for serve they got a rush that really pumped up our hitting game. We won both of these games 25-15 and 25-17.

The most entertaining part of this match was watching the referee unload on the Cal Jrs. Coach because of the lousy job her team was doing of keeping score accurately and for missing very obvious line calls. If only he had cracked down earlier in the match a couple of the close games that had been played (with and without us being involved) would have turned out differently. We were not the only team that day to suffer from missed calls by linesmen who were not paying attention.

The final match of the day we had to call lines and score keep for the Cal Jr. vs Impact match. I was very pleased with the job my players did that match. Afterwards the referee congratulated our team on their diligence and attention. He told the team “If more 14s teams would take their officiating responsibilities as seriously as you do, my job would be much easier.” I was also thanked by two other sets of parents from other teams for having players who obviously knew what they were doing and paid attention the entire match. I was very proud of our players.

In the end we were 1-2 in matches, and finished in 3rd place. This was a great 3rd place finish. We faced a couple very good teams who were very good at exploiting our weaknesses. We managed stay in division 12 and in the process prove that we do belong there.

The best compliment I received at the end of the day came from a couple parents from the Stealth team. They loved the way our entire team stayed positive, upbeat and focused during the both the matches we were losing and the match we won.

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