Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Volleyball Bayview 2005

The automobile made the suburbs possible and junior volleyball is possibly the quintessential suburban sport. With some possible exceptions, kids don't get to tournaments by public transportation or bicycle. In most cases, I'm not even sure it's possible. We drive thousands of miles each year usually in some form of a sport utility vehicle to take our kids to various tournaments. You wake up before the sun comes up. You fill the car with ice chests, folding chairs, blankets, and various electronic devices. This year, all the kids seem to wander the gyms between matches with white earphones and pastel-colored hard drives. Often, two girls share a single set of headphones so it looks like the letter "M" walking up and down the sidewalks outside the gyms. Today, the last day of the Bayview Classic was the first time I ever counted the vehicles. There were somewhere between forty and fifty vehicles there at Deer Valley High School. The average round trip was about 100 miles. This includes the fact that Vallejo Extreme first drove to the Bladium in Alameda before it learned that their matches today were in Antioch. At twenty miles a gallon, probably a generous estimate given the vehicles most of us drive to tournaments, that site acounted for two hundred and fifty gallons of gasoline. The tournament is three days over four sites with Deer Valley and Los Medanos being the smallest. My guess is that the gas cost of just getting to and from the Bay View tournament was roughly 2500 gallons.

This kind of junior sport could not have existed a generation ago. A sixty mile drive three days in a row in a Rambler station wagon wasn’t most family’s idea of a good time. Besides, most girls didn’t play organized sports then and there were no women’s athletic scholarships. Many families also had more kids and more parents made their living through physically difficult work. Back then, gasoline was often under seventy five cents/gallon. When our own daughter’s have children old enough to play this sport though, it’s likely that there won’t be enough gasoline to do it this way unless some drastic changes happen. World oil demand is growing, especially from China which happens to be the reigning Olympic champion in our sport. The world supply of new oil is not. Virtually every spot in the world that has significant oil reserves is also a political hot spot, the Middle East, the southern parts of what was the USSR, Venezuela. I know that most of us do junior sports to get our minds off this kind of thing, but our version of junior volleyball is an extraordinary luxury. This may be the only generation of young women who will get junior volleyball as one of the pleasures of the age of gasoline.

When I first saw the under 16’s seedings at this year’s Bay View Classic, I was honestly disappointed to find my daughter’s 15’s team seeded third. In general, with the growing importance of JO’s., my guess is that clubs are spending more resources both getting there and as a corollary going to more qualifiers. Regional tournaments like this one held after the date bids went out seem to be drifting towards minor league status. While we’d normally be thrilled to be seeded third, my daughter’s team was roughly the twentieth strongest team in Northern California under 16’s. One of the more regrettable trends n the tournament is that a lot of the stronger teams in 14’s and 16’s have taken to playing up an age group. It’s too bad. Bayview has always been a well run often highly competitive tournament. If you happen to play at the Bladium, you even actually get a view of the bay too. As it turned out, the 16’s wound up being very competitive unless you happened to be Saddleback 16.

I have to congratulate the tournament organizers. One way they found to keep the tournament interesting is via the “Power Pool”. Instead of having teams play a full day of non-competitive matches, the top 16 teams are identified beforehand and play each other. Misseeded teams have a way through, it’s not easy, but Nevada County 15’s, a group that only recently got its full team together at the same tournament, actually came out of the challenge pools and a 19 seed to make the semifinal. Even the teams playing up worked. My daughter’s 15’s team was badly beaten by a very good City Beach 14’s team which passed spectacularly well throughout the two game match.

Frankly, my daughter’s team has struggled some this year despite a huge upside and so reliving some of the matches hasn’t been very therapeutic. Norcal 15’s was an interesting team. They have a very tall middle in 12 with actual backrow skills, a fast setter, and they play very determined defense. They beat their own 16’s team fairly easily in the round of 16, I’m told partly because all the younger players from the 16’s moved to 15’s after the bid thing (feel free to correct me). In what might have been the Empire 15’s best match of the tournament, we beat them in three. At 14-14 of the third game, Norcal had played a very impressive first game then Empire started blocking everything in the second game, the Norcal left hit a very hard four over the block for what looked like a certain kill. The Empire setter was right in position in the backrow and it hit her on the forehead. The ball went straight back over the net. The Norcal players still in shock set another four and this time the front row blocked it with their hands. Timeout was called and both huddles seemed to be caught between the drama of 15-14 in the third and uncontrollable laughter about the last point. It was a great moment, made even better by thefact that Empire also won the last point. Of course, Norcal 15 got its revenge. They beat an ice cold Empire team n the quaterfinal. To complete the story. The match may have turned on a point at 14-14 in the second game. The same Empire player ran down and dove after a shanked pass and made a spectacular on purpose save only to see the third ball go into the net. The next seven points included three shanked serves and three consecutive hitting errors. As they’ve taught me at Volleyparent anonymous, “This happens sometimes and in the bigger picture of peak oil, fears about the viabiity of the American politcal process, and the fact that kids who don’t have volleyball scholarshps as high school sophomores are now made to feel like losers, it’s just not that big a deal, and I need to apologize for swearing audibly when it happened.” Making matters worse, I was videotaping the match so my swearing in a gym filled with 14 and 15 year old girls is now on a high 8 tape.

After our match with City Beach 14, I was really impressed with how fundamentally sound they were. They passed perfectly for a two game stretch. Their defense was City Beach standard determined and tenacious and this group could block and hit on top of it. #14, their lefthanded right side hitter was especially hard to stop. The one good thing for Empire in the match was one of the lefts had one of those matches where what’s possible suddenly meets up with what actually consistently happens when she hits. It was a joy to see a player’s game suddenly take the leap and it turned a second game City Beach rout into an almost interesting proposition though the only kinds of hitters who get 8 hard kills in a row without an error usually wind up at some place like UCLA.

The next day, I watched a couple games of Nevada County beating City Beach 14 surprisingly easily in the round of 16. fwiw the Nevada County team apparently has 4 eight graders on it so has a claim to being a 14 and half team of sorts. The team has several big athletic girls who play with real energy. Their setter #10 is very smooth and sees the court extremely well. On sets to the middle she does this distinctive one-footed pivot and she occasionally jump sets a four from the right side of the court, all of which is pretty impressive for a freshman. Also #9 a big eight grader went full speed to the corner laid out and rescued a ball three feet past the baseline. In other words, in a little town well out of any significant Norcal city there’s both a lot of volleyball potential and some serious coaching going on. They went on to beat the Empire 16 two team in a very close match in the quarterfinal. For some real trivia, Nevada County is actually in California, despite the name and Nevada Union high school is in grass valley. After Ricky Williams failed his drug tests and suddenly retired from the NFL, he actually moved to Grass Valley for a while (sometimes life is way more coincidental than fiction permits) where he learned to be an "Alternative healer". Can you imagine if Ricky Williams had gotten into city league volleyball there and decided to play grass doubles? Besides,Nevada County sounds better than Grass Valley Juniors, say playing in hemp instead of spandex and all those jokes....

Unquestionably, the class of the 16’s was Saddleback, a Festival team that won last year’s Reno 15’s title without losing a game. I think they came to Bayview in hopes of seeing teams like Empire 16 one, City Beach, Delta 16’s, etc. who had all decided to play up at 18’s. Let me put this as directly as possible, the best 16’s team at Bayview was playing 16’s and given the power pool format n the tournament, it would have been a perfectly respectable and in fact very interesting field if everyone had just stayed in their age group. Saddleback is as good as any team that came to Far Westerns this year in the 16’s and if they went to JO’s would likely medal in open. Typical of great Southern California teams they have excellent ball control and at times are spectacular defensive improvisers. They have college sized middles and lefts who are not just tall, but have the square shoulders of mature-trained athletes. I’m not a coach, but I wouldn’t be shocked if a couple of them could fit in perfectly well on college teams now. They also have a jump server who has control of direction and speed and who can run off nine or ten of the things in a row putting it seemingly at any spot on the court she cares to. My daughter’s team felt lucky to lose to them 15 sand 17. If anyone doubts that there are some serious teams that go to Festival instead of JO’s, that person has not seen the Saddleback 16’s team I saw at Bay View.

In general, the Oregon teams were stronger again. Two years ago in 14’s they appeared to be down, but Portland 16’s were very good and Rogue Valley made the final. To give you sense of how close it was at the top, Rogue Valley was second in its pool the first day and third on the second day, including a three game loss to my daughter’s Empire 15’s team. Both teams had some enormous players and I was really impressed with the Rogue Valley libero. They do this defense where she winds up as the only backrow player often and it actually works.

I did also want to mention Vallejo Extreme. Club volleyball is a sport where things over the years start looking more similar rather than less. While they are probably too small and a litle too inconsistent to be a great team, Vallejo Extreme was fun to watch because they did things differently. For one thing, it looked like they were frequently passing to a left-side setter on purpose. At least controlled passes were gong to the left from time to time and whoever was on the left seemed perfectly comfortable setting all the way over to the right. They went to the wrong gym this morning so were penalized 16 points in the first game for being late. They threw out this ambidextrous offense and a non-traditional defensive scheme that seemed to cover all the corners and the angles while daring the other team to get the ball down in the middle of the court. It made for a very scary three game match. If you do the math, had it not been for the penalty, Vallejo actually scored more points.

Two other non-court things I wanted to mention. Everyone seemed to like the change at Bladium where they open up the back sliding door on one side. It means that you don’t have to walk all the way to the front to get to courts that are way in the back where you have to park your car. They also put a hot food concession with a pretty good reasonably priced food in front of the new entry. The carne asada plate at seven dollars including soda was genuinely good and the hot dogs came with freshly grilled onions (to be honest only the adults seeme to care about or even want the onions). Second, the Bladium I assume was mostly meant for roller hockey. In previous years, one rink even at busy volleyball tournaments was always kept open for roller hockey matches. On my three trips to Bladium this year, the hockey has completely disappeared. Even the concession selling all those expensive bags, ball bearings, and pads for odd body parts, was dark and now seems to be sharing space with a batting cage. Bottom line, at least in the Bay Area where ice does not generally occur naturally at least in sufficient quantity to skate on, the NHL strike appears to be killing the sport. It’s quite possible that the last time I’ll ever have watched a hockey game on tv, Kurt Russell was the coach and everyone was yelliing about beating the Russians because they were occupying Afghanistan and the US was getting ready to arm a group called the “Taliban” to help advance our interests in the region.

Our family loves spending these weekends together at faraway tournaments on weekends when the weather is Northern California perfect like this one. Even if this tournament ended in frustrating fashion and my daughter’s 15’s team also suffered the indignity of losing to a very good 14’s team. It’s my hope that our kids will use their heads for more than digging volleyballs late in the third game and we do what it takes to make it possible for their daughters’ families to have similar spring pleasures whether they grow up in California, Indiana, or maybe even Uzbekistan, Guanghzhou, and Kabul. I do have to say though that other parts of the world might find it strange that adult spend this much time watching their kids do stuff instead of the other way around. Over the next generation, we have a serious choice to make. Which one are we going to prioritize? Are we going to choose enjoying our time with our children or would we rather drive around in continuous traffic jams in the same kind of vehicle that our governor drives?
If we make the right choice, it would be a Miracle worth celebrating.


Post a Comment

<< Home