Monday, May 02, 2005

Far Westerns (2004) Volleyball

For many years I'd been under the mistaken impression that Reno was part of the Big West. That was until Kirk Snyder and the Wolfpack made the Sweet Sixteen which proved for the moment that there is no serious college basketball west of Reno and thus Nevada is now the Far West ( sorry Gonzaga and Stanford). By that logic, Reno is as reasonable place as any to be the semi-permanent host for the Far Western Qualifier for the Northern California Volleyball Association. In case you haven't heard, the Davis Volleyball festival is also moving to Reno. If you are ever driving on highway 80 East, large numbers of nets, balls, and kneepads are likely flying past you, but you won't be able to see them because even the lights for the courts are being inexorably drawn to some pulsing volleyball buried in the heart of the Reno Convention Center, now identified by scientists as the black hole for all major western vollleyball events. My advice if you drive there: keep your windows closed or you will encounter singularities so disruptive of the time space continuum that Barry Manilow will be getting an hour on some tv show as Clay Aiken's father.

I first apologize. I know qualifier talk is supposed to start with the word "bid". If you want to know who got bids, I'm afraid I don't follow JOs closely enough. My daughter's club doesn't ever go to JOs, they just go to qualifiers so we can lose then really aggravate the other clubs by hinting that we lost because we really trying to avoid qualifying since we're a Festival club. In fact, the last qualifer I ever attended as a parent was held in Berkeley (a city actually in the Far West) and the players in 16's were Tracy Lindquist and Lindsay Yamasaki. The daughter who playing then is now coaching club which makes me only slightly younger in volleyball years than Andy Banachowski who I am pretty sure is even older than Barry Manilow who I understand is a candidate for the Iowa job. Should you wonder who I am, I'm the increasingly bald overweight parent who slaps his thigh each time his daughter's teammates miss a serve (if my daughter misses one, I talk about how the gym has all these weird drafts like Minute Maid Field). Unlike other volleyball parents, I also suffer from a condition where I actually believe while watching matches that I can set, pass, and hit as well as my daughter and her teammates and that I know a lot about how to play the sport. The condition is temporary and usually subsides a couple hours into the ride home and certainly if I ever have to contact a moving volleyball, but it can be quite pronounced during close matches at which point Mrs. Boris has to pretend that she doesn't actually know me. All this makes me unique enough that you should be able to spot me easily at any tournament and come by and say "Hi." Just don't do it in front of my daughter, cause she's embarrassed that her father actually writes these things and it's no fun driving home from tournaments without my wife and daughter.

Most of you may be aware that Far Westerns starts with a fundraising event where hundreds of parents buy eighty dollar t-shirts for their daughters. Sometimes known as the High Performance Camp or Junior National team tryouts, the opening event looks like a volleyball version of the first weeks of American Idol. Literally hundreds of girls line up in a large room of a convention center and get measured, try to high five a device called a vertex, do shuttle runs in front of a bunch of judges at which point the actual tryout may well be over, only no one tells the girls that. Instead, most spend the next three hours hitting and setting balls in a vain effort to overcome the fact that they didn't leave fingerprints on the upper part of the vertex. In other words, after going to three of these, I've concluded that most players have the same chance to ultimately get chosen for the Junior National Team as the fat guys with personalities have of getting choosen over the dull studs on Average Joe. Okay, I say this as a parent whose daughters have essentially had the same chance to be selected for one of these developmental things as they would have had they never attended the tryout (neither daughter is, however, an Average Jane). I do understand that the brutal truth is that volleyball at the international level is a sport where height matters a whole lot since someone who touches 8 feet can't have much impact on a game where most of the touches are at nine and a half feet. I just wish that USVA would stop pretending that everyone has a chance or gets a serious look after the physical testing is done. Yes, I now there are exceptions, but I think USVA should consider being more honest about the process and the fact that it's essentially the volleyball equivalent of either vanity publishing or American Idol's Houston tryouts this year. I would also say that there were several players at the tryout who were genuinely impressive both as prospects and volleyball players. Every now and then, you'd hear this "Ooh" just after a ball shook the seams in the sport court surface. I also saw one young lady touch all but the loftiest plastic thingy on the vertex (maybe she should take up the high jump too)

Somehow, I just don't see the Cuban National team coming from mass tryouts like ours. In fact, most national programs set certain criteria then look for very young candidates who aren't necessarily already playing that sport by combing places like public school physical education classes. There's also always some flexibility for the Wayne Gretzky's of the world whose performance defies the conventional predictors. If you want to pick based on height and explosiveness, you can generally determine that in about five minutes of physical testing. If enthusiasm, court smarts, team skills, work ethic, skill, etc. really matter, you likely won't really see it in a setting where three hundred players are vying for your attention all at once. I'd say if they want to finally win the Olympics, they need to recruit the real athletes into the sport a whole lot earlier than they do rather than pretend that these mass tryouts are the real modus. If you've ever seen a college women's top twenty basketball team stand next to a college volleyball team, you'll see pretty clearly what I mean. The really great tall athletes in this country still play basketball first. Until that changes, you'll continue to see American basketball teams medalling at the Olympic while the women's volleyball team continues to see a fourth or fifth there as a moral victory. Bottom line, I would say the current setup is good for raising money for USVA, but not necessarily for finding and developing international level athletes. Of course, if USVA had the resources to do it the optimum way, they wouldn't have to hold these mass t-shirt sales.

On the other hand, should by some real off chance, my kid gets one of the six kinds of nice letters in mid-May, then my opinion of the whole thing changes completely and we pay USVA big bucks so we can brag about how we had to change our vacation plans so she could attend some developmental camp and I talk about how smart all the evaluators were.

end part 1


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