Sunday, June 22, 2008

Starlings National Championship

My volleyball team and I left last Wednesday for the Starlings National Championships in San Diego.

We started our adventure at the opening ceremonies at Sweetwater high school. The place was jamb packed with Starlings Volleyball players, their coaches and parents. There was a parade of banners, a lot of dancing, laughing and just overall good fun by all.



The next morning we started pool play at the Alliant Sports Center. This is a large canvas roofed building that is big enough to hold 12 volleyball courts. Unfortunately this facility is not air conditioned. This became important as the weather in San Diego was unseasonably warm this week. By the time the first round of pool play was half over it was well over 90 degrees in the building and very humid.

Our day started off a little strange. We were on the court warming up waiting for our opponents from Watsonville CA to show up. We were there, a San Diego Navajo team that was going to be refereeing our match was there, and a team from Mission Bay San Diego. But there was no sign of our opponents. So the other two teams sat there and watched us warm up for a few minutes. Eventually we started scrimmaging with the Navajo team because we were all bored. After twenty minutes the tournament official declared our match a forfeit and we recorded our first win of the tournament without even seeing our opponents.

Next up we had to referee the match between the Navajo team and the Mission Bay team. Our Watsonville opponents showed up in the middle of this match. They had all been riding in the same van that got lost on the freeways in San Diego.

Next up we played the Mission Bay Starlings team. We cruised to an easy 25-4 win in the first game on the backs of Laura and her 11 consecutive serves followed by Alyssa fired off 7 of her own including three jump serve aces. The next game we got a little complacent and allowed our opponents to hang around way too long before we finally beat them 25-18.

Unfortunately that complacency carried over to our next match against the San Diego Navajo Starlings team. We let them get a 23-14 lead over us before we finally started to play. With Jazmine serving seven straight serves our team managed to close the game to 21 to 23 before they finally scored their last two points to win the game. The second game we started out like we finished the previous game – hot! We stormed out to a fast lead in the game and held a 23-20 lead when everyone just shut down and stopped moving. Our opponents outscored us five to two in the last couple minutes to win 25-27.

This 2-1 performance was enough to get us a second place finish in our pool. This put us in the division with the top 18 teams of the tournament, which was all the number 1 and number 2 finishers on Thursday.

On Friday we were in a pool with teams from Phoenix Az, Oakland CA and Bakersfield CA. We played at the Balboa Park Activities Center which like Alliant University also didn’t have any air conditioning. It did however have a little better ventilation than Alliant did so to start it seemed a little cooler inside to start. But by the end of the match it was just as hot as Alliant.

Our first match was against the Oakland team. Both teams started a little slow but the Oakland team warmed up a bit quicker than we did. They won the first game 22-25. But once we got going they discovered what kind of team we really were. We won the second game 25-15. In the third and deciding game the team slacked off again and needed six serves including three aces from Rebecca in order to win the game 15-13.

Our second game was against the Phoenix team. There were so far the best team we had faced in the tournament. We started out a little slow and eventually lost the first game 19-25. But the girls got going again in the second game and took an early lead. But we once again slowed down in the end and lost that game 22-25.

The Bakersfield team was our last challenge of the afternoon. We eventually won a slow and error filled first game 25-21. Then sleep walked our way through a crushing 14-25 loss. But the team woke up and really came out serving and hitting in the third and final game. We changed sides of the court with an 8-3 lead and cruised to and easy 15-7 victory. After the match our referee, Ernie, who is the National Starlings ambassador, called the team over and congratulated them on a spectacular performance. He was very impressed with how well out team full of young players held their cool and didn’t get flustered after that big loss in the second game.

Once again we found ourselves with a 2-1 record and a second place finish. And just like yesterday it was enough to keep us in the top division with all the other first and second finishers.

On Saturday we were one of the eight teams that entered the Gold Championship double elimination part of the tournament for a chance to play for the U14 tournament championship.

Our first match of the day was against the Tehachapi U14 team. This team had also played in the Southern California Volleyball Tournament season with us. But we had never played each other. They were always ranked one to two divisions below us in the standings. But they had finished the season strong and didn’t look to be a push over team. I was hopeful when they took the court because they also had two girls who looked like they were no older than the three eleven year olds on our team. However, those younger smaller players never got onto the court for their team, where all three of young players play – a lot.

Unfortunately Saturday was not to be our day. I don’t know if it was the heat, the humidity, the three consecutive days of volleyball, or the fact that my normally tight, best friends, team that has gotten along fantastically all season was suddenly fractured into three distinct factions that were not getting along on or off the court. I have several ideas about what happened to my team but I’m not going to air them here. But their off the court disagreements and bickering carried over onto the court in a huge way this day and brought a very unsatisfying end to our season.

Our match was against Tehachapi who was playing well but not nearly as well as our team was capable of when they were getting along. Unfortunately we were not getting along, we were not moving, and my players were acting like they really didn’t care if they won or lost. And so they lost – 16-25 and 19-25.

Following that match we had to ref a match. It was a very uncomfortable time because I had to down ref for the match and I was very aware of my team that was sitting on the floor behind me keeping score with a lot of glaring going on and no one talking to each other.

This loss moved us down to the loser bracket of the championship division. We had to play a match against a team called Scripps Ranch from the San Diego area. They were also having a bad day. At times they seem to be a fairly good team who was struggling with the heat and humidity. We squeaked out a 25-21 win in the first game and that seem to really deflate our opponents. They pretty much just phoned in their last game of the weekend and we cruised to a 25-12 victory and a chance to keep playing.

We got a three minute break after the match and had to play our next match of the day against the same Phoenix team we had played on Friday. This team was really down. They had been undefeated going into the day and had just lost their first match of the season to an undersized Navajo team from Tuba City AZ. When they walked over to our court they were all shuffling their feet and walking with their head down. They looked like a bunch of whipped puppies.

I tried to rally the team to step up and start playing together like they used to. But it just wasn’t to be. We gave up 6 consecutive serve aces to start the game and that got our opponents fired up. And as fast as they got excited we crashed. We lost the first game 17-25 and the second 15-25.

Our run at our first ever Starling National Championship ended in a two way tie for fifth place. It was not the ending of the season I was hoping for. But overall it wasn’t a bad finish. We started this season as a first time team with first time club players and a first time club coach. The players learned to trust each other, work together and cooperate as a team. In the end we forgot some of the lessons we had learned but we competed in a tournament with Starlings team from all over the country and finished in a tie for 5th place out of 36 teams.

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