Sunday, June 05, 2005

volleyball from 2003 (Bladium just before the war)

(this is from 2 years ago)

The Bladium is a private sports faciity built into a huge airplane hangar at what was once the Alameda Naval Air Base. The facility fronts what used to be a runway. There’s a clear view of a decomissioned aircraft carrier and several military cargo ships on one side and the other side has a full one hundred and eighty degree view of downtown San Francisco. The Bladium itself is a marvel of what appears to be more than twenty five thousand feet of seventy five foot high ceiling supported by an arrray of what must be several tons of geometrically arranged steel girders. There’s a indoor soccer field near the front and two roller hockey rinks in the back. One rink stays intact for roller hockey, the other is divided into four volleyball courts. The first time I went there, I thought that volleyball was demanding enough of a sport and it was sort of excessive to expect the girls to play it on rollerblades. FWIW, there was probably nothing more hopeful than to see a building once devoted to the business of war turned over to children’s games. Given current events, the juxtaposition of the two gave the place the feeling of one of those pivotal moments in time where the process of swords to ploughshares or in this case aircraft aluminum into volleyball poles seems just on the brink of possibly reversing itself. In any case, I’m glad my own children have had the luxury to spend so many weekends thinking that staying in the gold division was the major event in their world for the month and I dearly hope that in a few months that’ll either still be true or true again both here and in Baghdad where I understand Club Euphrates Saladins have a slight lead over the Hammurabi Tablets, but everyone claims that Desert Storm 2 is the team to watch out for.

I should mention the other small bit of resonance about the Bladium: probably the most famous volleyball scene in movie history takes place in Top Gun at Miramar Naval Air Base. Tom Cruise, who in real life would definitely be a libero, gets so caught up in a fiercely competitive two on two volleyball match that he nearly misses a date with Middle Blocker and flight instructor Kelly Mcgillis. As I understand it, that was the beginning of the push for rally scoring. Anyway, she forgives him, he loses his setter to a freak training accident, and then he nearly starts World War 3 but instead makes America safe for Righteous Brothers Karaoke pickup techniques. The movie had a major impact on my life. I swore that my own children would play volleyball well enough to hit fours over Tom Cruise until he left crying “Show me the money, show me the money.” I also think Nicole Kidman definitely looks like an outside hitter and that she sings better than Catherine Zeta Jones.
Before I talk about the volleyball from Saturday, I did want to make a couple things clear. I’m a parent who personally has neve played or coached competitive volleyball. Whatever I say here about the sport is just some parent talking. If you want to disagree with me, feel free. If you want to correct me factually, assuming you ever get past the first couple paragraphs of these things, feel free to do that as well. All those things make this place more interesting. America is, after all, a free country unless you choose to wear a “Peace Now” t-shirt in a shopping mall in Albany.
One thing about converted hangars, since some bankrupt company in Texas stole all of California’s money for utilities, there’s basically no way you can hope to heat a place like that even if we controlled all the oil in the Middle East. It was cold in there and my daughter’s team started the day playing as if they were in the cast iron or the tin foil division instead of gold. City Beach black stomped them. Once again, they seemed to find every seam in the defense, serve every ball below knee height, and always stood exactly in the right place whenever my daughter’s team managed to get a ball set for a decent swing. This is, after all, the City Beach division where one club has three team’s in the region’s top nine. The result was so one-sided, we couldn’t even get to complain about the ref. To be honest, there was some talk about the ref who was for the first time this year calling the sets very very tight. If the ball spun at all, the whistle would blow. She did it in consistent fashion, but it raised one of those interesting questions about how tight should you call fourteens matches.
I’m not sure my daughter’s team broke sixteen points in either game.
For whatever reason, we were dropped into a pool that included exactly the same teams we played or would have played in Salinas in the last qualifier, so the next match was with Delta Valley. The first game against Delta Valley was even worse. Delta Valley has two good setters, a very tall middle with good agility who can even dive for short balls when she’s in the back row, another less tall middle who serves extremely well, steady ball control type leftside players, and a coach who I think has been coaching top 14’ teams since Top Gun was actually shown in theaters. All those things seemed to come to bear as the score was something like 25-8. I will confess. My daughter has played on teams that had whole days like this where they never won a match. Actually, one time, they played five matches without winning a game. It’s a horrible thing. Someone else’s chlidren are stomping your children and you’re sitting in your folding chair thinking of things to say like, I liked the way you passed that one ball or that was a good dig in the back corner or worst of all, “Did it hurt your arms when you had to try to dig that big girl’s hits?” The rest of the time, you sit there and do things like blame your daughter’s coach, complain that they have her in the wrong position, or that all her teammates are talentless oafs who don’t deserve a teammate like your kid. Certainly, you stop posting on volleyball bulletin boards.
Anyway, let’s say I was having a few of these thoughts as I marvelled at the way the entire Delta Valley team seemed to be willing to give up their bodies to keep the ball from bouncing off their side of the roller hockey rink. Sad to say, I was not thinking in the least that what happened would happen.
The second game started and suddenly Delta Valley went flat. They missed serves, hit easy sets into the net or out, and shanked balls. My daughter’s team didn’t do anything especially well, but somehow they held a slight lead in the second game. Somewhere about 10-6, ann odd thing happened, my daugther’s team started to remember how to get balls back over the net. At this point, I turned to the parent next to me and said “Please just let us to get to 20, so our team doesn’t wind up totally demoralized.”
This seems to be the wondrous thing about fourteens volleyball. You never know what to expect or when to expect it. The leaden uninspired play suddenly achieved a flow and connection which had thus far seemed the exclusive property of City Beach and Delta Valley. Somewhere in there a rally happened. The ball went back and forth at least ten times, players slid into position without colliding, hitters hit nice clean down balls, dumps found flesh instead of floor, and the back row became a wall instead of one of those stretches where all the inhabitants act like they’re praying for the next ball to go out. Delta Valley, of course, is one of those teams that gets into those kinds of rallies and sends the clear message that they simply will not make the first mistake. The third ball on our side went to a left who had seemingly last gotten a ball in two weeks ago. She hits a cross court shot that falls just beyond the ten foot line. Suddenly all the players find the extra six inches or so to their game and before you know it, we’ve started the rally game.
The rally game is dead even until the sixth point, the Empire server then served six points in a row including three aces and an absolutely wretched morning turned inspiring. There’s something about those times when you realize that your kid doesn’t quit quite as early as you might have and that just maybe that little lesson will generalize through her life. My wife and I looked over at one another with that kind of look where you both just want to say,”Gee, maybe this is worth thousands of dollars, half our weekends, and a good percentage of our evenings.”
We went out for an early lunch break, certain that a dejected and broken Delta Valley would then lose to City Beach and leave us second in our pool. After all, City Beach had had an easy time with Delta just two weeks earlier. Naturally, that’s not what happened at all. Delta Valley regenerated itself and swept City Beach Black which left us third in the pool after all and at risk of dropping into the pool of death where you have to win two matches to avoid transmuting into silver.
In the crossover match, we had our first vision of Vision this season, one of the teams that went into the season with very high expectations. I’d even heard one parent mutter that Vision had wound up with the first choice of many of the players who tried out in the Vision, City Beach, Yahoo troika back in the fall. This, of course, is the nature of parent talk. You’re not at all sure what to believe. In any case, Vision looks phsyically imposing. They have a middle who is about six two who will likely be quite scary some day soon. They have a good coach with Sonoma County roots and they are prone to runs of mistakes. At this point, the Empire team had become very confident and came out very determined not to run the risk of flirting with silver. The two teams are actually quite similar in many ways. At the top of their game, I think they can beat anyone. If things go bad as they did earlier in the morning, they can lose to just about anyone. Empire was at the top of its game. Vision was not.
City Beach Green was the reward for winning against Vision. The Green team looks quite similar to the Black team except there are no twins on this one. They have a left #12 who is very athletic and a very intelligent hitter. They have a middle who looks strikingly like a close relative of Kerri Walsh (who for what it’s worth remains the best player I’ve ever seen in the Norcal juniors) They also have the expected discipline and fundamental soundness that seems to characterize all City Beach teams. This was an extremely close match. Neither team really seemed able to run points or find a consistent soft spot in the other team’s defense. Ultimately, the first game came down to a line call by a peer ref who jumped out of the way, signalled out in the process, and never looked at the ball as it landed and a very close in the net call against the Empire setter at 23-24. The second game was similarly close and ended with yet another in the net call against the Empire setter at 21-23. I suppose these things happen and City Beach green played good solid volleyball. It’s honestly hard to say if Black or Green is the better of the two teams and I hope there will be opportunties to reprise this matchup.
Ironically, Empire, City Beach Black, and Delta got dropped into a pool for the 4-6 spots which might explain why they split matches in the morning pool. Delta once again handled City Beach quite easily then exacted its revenge for having let up against Empire in the morning.
The best match of the day fittingly wound up being the one for the number one spot. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I wound up watching Yahoo which came in as the number 9 and City Beach Green while keeping the other eye on my own daughter’s match against Delta Valley. I have to say that I’ve come to really enjoy watching the Yahoo team, because they appear to have a readily apparent poise and focus that really stands out at this age level. On top of that, Yahoo has no players who physically would make any college recruiters drool at this point, they just play good consistent, gutsy volleyball. In particular they have a left #9 who occasionally hammers the ball, never seems to let a ball drop in the middle back spot, and who will somersault after balls in the far right corner and a libero #12 who at least this day always seems to approach the ball with uncannily perfect passing form. In this match, City Beach Green went out to an 11-3 lead in the first game. Very few teams recover from an eight point deficit in the rally score format, Yahoo did and even took the lead at 18-15 or so. CB closed the gap and then the teams essentially traded points to 25-25 with every point a small war. At 26-25 a Yahoo left put a ball hard into the deep right corner. Two points later, the City Beach Green left puts a ball hard into the deep right corner to make it 27-26. City Beach won the first game 28-26. During one key point, a ball rolled across the court with the point very much in question and the ref refused to call the do over, a call that provoked a huge sigh from the Yahoo parents and unleashed murmurrs about some sort of City Beach conspiracy :}. These normally are the hardest kinds of games to recover from. You spend a lot of energy to come back from a big deficit, play well from there, and still lose on a tough call. Most teams go flat. Yahoo didn’t. They won the second game relatively easily to set up the rally game. Once again, CB broke out quickly and took the lead. Once again Yahoo played focused relentless volleyball and caught them, then won the match and the first seed 15-12.
The day ended with the number 9 seed leaving as the number 1 seed. The number 1 seed, City Beach 13, left as the number 9 seed and fell to silver along with Club Kalani. I left thinking about how wondrously unpredictable and joyful the day had been. As I passed the soccer game on my way out, I took one last look at the ceiling and its intricate network of girders, each somehow connected to the other, tons of steel suspended high in the air, as if, much like the state of the world, seemingly ready to collapse at any moment if not for the happy shouts of the children playing below somehow pushing upwards, refusing to let any of it come crashing down. I wanted this day to last forever and I don’t want March 17 to come even an hour closer.


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