I took my older middle school volleyball team to Bakersfield on Saturday to compete in the 20th annual Rio Bravo Greeley Middle School Volleyball Tournament. This is always a tough tournament for us. The teams that compete there are mostly all big schools with a large population of students to draw on. So taking a small school team which is usually made up of every girl I can get to play is a challenge.
Lonie, who runs this tournament has been very accommodating throughout the years. We first met Lonie several years ago at a tournament at Garces High School. My team was getting crushed by these larger schools. Lonie and our staff got to talking and she invited us to come compete in her tournament. But she allowed us, to play down a grade from most of the other teams. So unlike most tournaments, if I show up with a team full of 6th and 7th grade players with a couple 8th graders on it, she doesn't make us play in the 8th grade division. So for the last few years we have been playing with our "8th" grade team in the 7th grade division.
I was (and still am) uncomfortable with this. It kind of feels like cheating to me. But the last two years my teams have been eliminated from the tournament during the pool play rounds. But that is not all to blame on the quality of our opponents. Each of the last few years my teams have shown up at the tournament and played the worst volleyball I have ever seen them play. So we were sent home early both years.
This year started out kind of the same. Our first game was ugly. We could not pass a volleyball to save our lives. We lost our first game 23-30. We got most of our 23 points from opponent errors because when we could not handle a serve and when we did get a ball into play our offense was nonexistent.
Our second pool play game was against a weaker team than us. While our passing improved, our serving fell apart. But our offense was working better and we won that game 30-24.
For our third and final game in pool play we had to play one of the toughest teams in the tournament. My team finally showed up. For the first time in four years I got to watch a Saint Ann Volleyball team finally play a game of volleyball like they knew what they were doing. Serves were on, passing was only adequate but our offense was spectacular. I had hitters killing balls from all over the court. Our defense was playing fantastic. We had several long rallys - series of plays where the ball was crossing the net 7, 8 or even 9 times during the rally. In every one of them we were passing-setting and attacking while our opponents quickly settled for just hitting free balls back at us with the first or second hit. We won that game 30-22.
Due to a tie breaker system that I didn't try too hard to question we were placed first in our pool. Last year we were in a three way tie for last in our pool where two of the teams would get to play in the brackets one one would be sent home. All three teams were tied with identical match and game records, and had beaten each other in an A beats B, B beats C and C beats A fashion. I was looking at the points scored and realized that we had the edge in the points scored category over the other two teams. We also had the edge in the points allowed category. But the tournament broke the tie by taking the two teams that had allowed the most points to be scored against them. So we went home while the other two teams played.
This year made up for that. Once again we were in a three way tie with each of the teams having beaten one of the others. We were all 2-1. Unfortunately we were in second place in the points scored category. We were in third place in the points allowed category. And I didn't think that they would break the tie the same way they did last year. So I was prepared to be playing in the consolation bracket instead of the championship bracket. But when the results were posted we were listed as first in our pool and the number two team in the championship bracket.
When I asked the director what the tie breaker was she said head-to-head. Freedom beat El Tejon, and you beat Freedom, so you're number one. I didn't bother pointing out that El-Tejon had beaten us. I figured it was just a little pay back for last year. But I did feel sorry for El Tejon. They were tied for the lead in their pool and had to play in the consolation bracket. Which they won.
Our semi final game in the championship bracket was an inability game. That is a game were we demonstrated our inability to play volleyball. Where our third pool play game had been the best game we had ever played in this tournament. This semi-final game was easily the worst we had ever played. Nothing was working. From the opening serve my girls were playing in panic mode. I took a time out at 0-5 to try and calm them down. No luck. I took my second time out at 3-15, again to try and calm them down. Again no luck. They finally calmed down late in the game when they stopped playing completely. We lost that game 9-30 and three of our points were garbage points when the other team got lazy right at the end.
After a break we were back on the court our last game of the day. The bronze medal match against the previous no. 1 team, which had also lost in their semi-final. We matched up pretty good against this team. We let them have a quick four point lead and then started playing good volleyball while we slowly worked to take that lead away from them. We managed to close the game up to 23-24 when the wheels came off our offense. We were still serving well, passing well and setting well. But our third hits were just not working. We suddenly started spiking into the net and under the net. We were hitting everywhere except over the net and in bounds. Six straight spikes in a row that never even got close to the top of the net and the game was over 23-30.
So we went home in 4th place out of 9 teams. Which is a great improvement over the last two years when we went home without any place at all.
Late in the tournament I had a chance to chat with a couple of the other coaches. When the subject of players ages came up, one of them flat out asked me "I hear you have a couple 8th grade players on your team?" I told her I did. When she asked how many I said three, and one 6th grader. Then I pointed to my girls and said you tell me which three are the 8th graders. They only got one right. Their other two picks were both 7th grade players. They both laughed when I told them that and said "Don't worry about it, Lonie did the right thing letting you play in this division."