(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An Afternoon at a Volleyball Match

I'm sure that each of us prefer one or the other, depending on whether we have a team that we're rooting for, whether we know someone involved with the team and, most importantly, whether our team wins or loses the game. Clearly, you want your team, your friends, your kids, your kids' friends and your friends' kids to give a good effort and to win. That's why they keep score.

There are levels to this of course. You want your professional teams to win championships. You want your favorite college teams to do the same, or, at a minimum, beat the rivals and those over whom you want bragging rights or, perhaps better, don't want to hear bragging from. You want your kids' teams to win, yes, but you want your kids to play on the right teams for their level of ability so that they can get the level of instruction, playing time and involvement that they seek. As well as good coaches and good kids, because when it's all said and done, if the teammates aren't good kids, the experience can be dreadful.

Yesterday, I witnessed a very good volleyball match between two teams that gave it their all. My daughter happened to be on one of them, and her team, while playing hard and competing reasonably well, loses a lot more than it wins. Yet, the girls play hard, they are spirited, they support one another, and when you see them before a game you cannot tell that they lose more than they win. That's a tribute to their coach, their captains, and the girls themselves.

They were playing a team that had beaten them twice before, once in three straight games on the road, and then in their own gym in four games. They found themselves short a captain and a few upperclassmen as they ventured on the road to play this rival for a third time.

To call the opponents' gym a "band box" would be an understatement, as a shoe box would be more like it. There was barely any room on the sidelines for parents to sit, and the floor itself was very hard, not the most conducive to diving and sliding. At any rate, the teams battled mightily. The hosts got off to a quick start and won game 1, while the visitors rebounded nicely and won game 2 by a nice margin. The hosts then took game 3, and right then I figured that my daughter's team would battle gamely, lose a close game, lose the match 3 games to 1 and call it a day. That's been their modus operandi -- they simply have enough talent to go so far.

Yesterday was different. It was as though after the third game the bells in the song from Rocky "Go the Distance" started chiming, and the group of girls on the floor looked particularly game. They didn't look resigned, they looked pretty relaxed with a tinge of a sense of purpose that indicated that perhaps they had one more run in them yet. The hosts also sensed the kill, and they upped their intensity. Yes, there were some bad serves and unforced errors that gave the other team points, but by and large there were good points, hard fought. For my daughter's team, girls who had trouble serving served better, diggers dug with fewer mis-hits, hitters kept the ball inside the lines and blockers blocked pretty well. The result was a solid victory in Game 4, which meant that they'd have to play a 15-point Game 5 to decide the match.

The referee held a coin flip, which the hosts won. They promptly chose the side they wanted over serving, and the referee told me it was because the team that won each game took the side that the hosts just took. I smiled. The way I figured it, my daughter's team got to a Game 5, not a frequent occurrence. In certain ways, the pressure was on them to overcome prior odds and win. In other ways, the pressure was on the hosts not to lose to a team in their own gym that they had beaten twice before.

The action was intense, and the hosts pulled ahead 11-8. It looked somewhat bleak for my daughter's team, but then they rallied to tie it and ultimately go ahead, 14-13. They needed one more point and were serving. They got a good serve, but the other team made a few good hits and won the point. Tied at 14.

The hosts' served, and there was a vigorous back and forth that led to a set for the outside hitter of the hosts, perhaps the most talented player on the floor. She might be about 5'6", but she has hops, and up she went, launch a cannon shot between two of the visitors' back line. There was no way they could return it, except. . .

it was out. By two feet, not even close. 15-14 visitors, serving for the match.


In a loud, crowded gym.

Against a team that beat them handily about a month ago, less handily several weeks ago, and without a few regulars.

The serve was in. The hosts returned it, and the visitors answered, placing a ball near the feet of a host player who just couldn't get to it.

The visitors -- my daughter's team -- won!

For the first time in a long time.

In the fifth game. On the road. In a crowded gym.

It was something to behold. A barnburner of a game. In a tight space, with young kids who gave it their all and who played their hearts out.

It wasn't the NBA, the NFL, the BCS championship game or anything close.

What it was was a hard-fought contest between two well-coached teams who gave a great effort and got a lot out of their abilities. What it also was was a victory by a team against the odds, and you seldom see that. When you do, it's pretty satisfying at many levels, a real treat.

I had texted my wife with updates all afternoon, and she offered that I really built the excitement because of the way the match unfolded. I am sure that her exclamation after my report of the final point was louder than mine, as I had developed a friendly relationship with a dad from the host team who was sitting next to me. And besides, why act like you hadn't been there before, like winning was new or rare?

Games like these are the most rewarding. Sure, part of it is because you know the kids. But perhaps a bigger part of it is that these kids play for their schools, each other and for the love of the sport -- and that's it.

And it's more than plenty.

It's pure gold.


Anonymous Hamlet's Fool said...

Nothing is more fun than a hard fought win "against the odds." Congrats to your daughter's team!

11:16 PM  

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