Sunday, June 05, 2005

Volleyball Great America Tournament 2005

There’s an In and Out burger place in Mill Valley just off 101 after you cross the Golden Gate Bridge. If a tournament ends late on a Sunday, we stop there. Anytime we do, we run into at least one of my daughter’s teammates which proves that not all people from Northern California are vegetarians. This time, though, the food tastes much better than usual. My daughter’s team just won the under 16’s in the Great America Tournament. To be honest, most of the stronger under 16’s skipped the under 16’s part of this tournament. Even City Beach’s very good 15 one team played in the 18’s division in their own tournament. As I sit here at the computer still digesting some mixture of french fry grease and that Russian dressing like sauce from In and Out, I don’t care. It’s just nice to come home without “if only” thoughts. As you see when something like this happens, I don’t ruminate on politics, B movies, reality tv, or my possibly imaginary conversations with Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, I go straight to talking about volleyball.

Winning the Great America 16’s is roughly like winning the Oklahoma primary. If you track these things, Wesley Clark won the 2004 primary there then withdrew from the race in the same week. It’s too late to have anything to do with JO’s. It comes right after Bayview and just before most kids have high school finals. In fact, when you win you don’t get tickets to go to Great America (the amusement park that overlooks Santa Clara’s City Beach facility), they give you a plaque (why is it that it’s good to have your name on a plaque but really bad to have plaque on your teeth?) that says City Beach Volleyball Club in very big letters and first place 2005 in very small letters. Maybe Wesley Clark has a plaque from the Oklahoma democratic party that says “Winner 2004 Primary”, you got almost 2% of the vote here that Carrie Underwood got for American Idol? So it’s not that big a deal, but we don’t care it’s still a big deal to us. In fact there were some decent teams in the field. Besides, my daughter’s team now has more tournament wins than Anna Kournikova did in tennis singles and she's rich and famous.

Last week, imho the power pools made the Bay View tournament much more interesting across the three days. Even though my daughter’s 15’s team was the third seed at Bay View and the 4th Seed at Great America, the field had even less gold and silver quality teams in it. I’m not sure a 2 day format permits the use of power pools, but the first day didn’t look very competitive. The second place team in our pool was probably a good 25 places behind us in the region. There was, however, at least one upset in the first day pools, Delta Valley 15 one, the fifth seed, dropped a match which shifted them to the other side of the draw. There are three things I like about the City Beach facility. They have pool tables, air hockey, and ping pong tables in the waiting area which gives the parents a way to mix with the kids between matches. It also keeps the various captive younger siblings from getting even more bored. Second, they have nets between all the courts, an increasingly rare amenity in Northern California. At regionals, it seemed like every third point was stopped by two thumbs up and a “ball on” call.
Third, the place is within a mile of Fry’s Electronics, a toy store for geeks. The play went so smoothly or there were so many mismatches, the afternoon pools even ended an hour and a half early.

On Sunday, the 16’s were supposed to start at Foothill College at 11 in the morning, but the 14’s were running slow. We played our first match at 1 and at 4:45 had played 2 matches. In our pool, Empire’s 15 two team upset Club Kalani in a two game match. Kalani started the year in gold and spent most of the year in the silver division of 16’s, so this was a great win for the fifteen twos who pass well and played very steady volleyball throughout the tournament. We beat a pretty good Salinas team in the first match to set up a match in the quarters with our own 15 twos. btw, the second gym at Foothill is very cramped for 3 courts. There’s only about three feet of perimeter around each court.
In a similar match, Gold Cal 16’s beat its own very good 15’s team.

Perhaps the best match of the tournament was between Delta Valley 15’ 1 and City Beach 14’s in the round of 8. Both are relatively small very strong ball control teams. If anything, City Beach 14’s may have had a slight edge in power and height. Each of the three games was point for point. City Beach took a 12-10 edge in the third game only to lose 16-14. My guess is that City Beach 14 will do very well in open at JO’s. They play very clean, hit well for a 14’s team, and have that quality that makes for a tough opponent, they make you beat them. This can be done with height and power that few 14’s do have and possibly by taking advantage of occasional missed serves, the one reminder that CB 14’s is a 14’s team. Delta had recently moved a middle #7 to the left and it seemed to make a difference in their attack.

In the quarters, Empire 15’ one beat its 15 2 team in 2 games. The two team played better than the score suggested and they had a good tournament. It also was a relief for the 15 ones to win the match. In a similar match, City Beach 15 ‘2 beat the City Beach 14’2s. Delta beat Gold Cal 16’s in one semi in a close match. Empire 15’1 beat City Beach 15’2 relatively easily in the other semi. CB 15’2 is a solid team btw, their middle hit the ten foot line a couple times and they played good consistent volleyball, it was more a matter of something was happening for Empire 15’1...their big hitters were looking like big consistent hitters and their back row was playing very dependably. I’d also mention that one of the team’s setters has wound up playing a more reduced role than she expected, but has stayed positive and worked hard throughout, and she made huge contributions in this tournament as she has throughout the year.

I should also mention an interesting moment. The tournament director let one team, which had a long drive, leave early. He came to our coach and asked us to ref. She responded that "she wanted to do as well as possible in this tournament and the team needed the rest, which they did (we were missing 3 players this weekend). It wasn't necessarily the most accomadating response, but it made a difference in the team's energy level against City Beach 15'2 in the next match.

There’s been a nice rivalry between Delta 14-15 and Empire 14-15 for a couple years now. The Delta parents are extremely friendly and pleasant for one thing. For another, Delta’s coach Larry has been a credit to the region for some time. He’s a not very tall, older man, with a moustache and sometimes beard who coaches with his son. He does odd things like he actually talks to the players on the other teams and says encouraging things to them between matches. One time, he even appeared in my daughter’s team’s huddle in the middle of a match to say something to them. His teams are always well prepared, tend to win a lot, and I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen him be anything less than positive in a match.
Two years ago, we lost to the Delta 14’s in the finals of the Stockton tournament. Last year my daughter’s 15’s team just narrowly beat the Delta 14’s at Great America. This year, they most recently beat Delta 15’s to stay more silver than bronze at Regionals, which makes this sound like a pretty lackluster final. The truth is though, it wasn’t. Delta 15 was playing extremely well today and has steadily improved throughout the year. Empire 15 also found a new gear during this tournament.

The actual final wasn’t that close this time. Delta’s libero played extremely well, but when you are mostly noticing a libero make great saves in a match that often isn’t a good sign overall. In any case, her pink jersey would appear on either side of the ten foot line and any of dozens of places beyond the back line to keep points going. Empire 15 probably played its best match of the year, particularly in transition. At the end of the match, I told a Delta parent that I thought they had a much tougher road to the final and it looked a lot out of them. She replied,"No, you guys just kicked our butts today." As I said, it's a nice rivalry. I looked up and the Delta team and the City Beach team that reffed the match were picking up water bottles in the gym and putting them in the trash.

There are some people who think the only meals that worth bragging about have to be had at five star restaurants where great chefs work with only the best ingredients. I have to say, that sometimes In and Out Burger can be awfully satisfying especially towards the end of a long year. We'll have to stop at one on the way to Reno this month.


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