Sunday, February 26, 2006

NCVA League 1 (2006) volleyball

"All NCVA 16's Team will be Getting a Vision Check over the Next 3 Weeks"

I’m thinking about what George Bush senior called the "Vision thing".  Sure, I was sitting in the Bladium at close to six PM on Saturday while my daughter’s team reffed the ultimate bragging rights match in Norcal under 16 for the year between Vision 15-1 and Vision 16-1.  So, yeah, any non-Vision parent has to be sitting around asking himself what’s Vision got that my daughter’s club doesn’t have other than three quarters of last year’s City Beach 14’s team.  I’m also thinking about the fact that for the first time in my three years of recapping this stuff, I had two other parents come up to me and ask me if I was “Boris”.  Both very nice people by the way, but what use is a pseudonym if everyone can figure out who you are anyway?  I spent three years telling people at tournaments that I was an international energy analyst, yet now everyone seems to know that I’m a covert volleyball parent all because I volunteered to meet with the NCVA.  Either that or it was Scooter Libby and Bob Novak’s doing.

Confessions of a Dangerous Volleyball Parent

How did I really drift from cartoon character chasing moose and squirrel to the Erin Brockovich of the junior spandex set?  The simple answer is that I have no friggin idea.  You might as well ask me about chairs in Fresno or tree hugging in Campbell or flip flops.  I have no idea what that stuff is about nor do I know who Marcie is.  I do take solace from it though in that it tells me that even my stranger jokes aren’t necessarily out of the mainstream on prepvolleyball not to mention volleytalk.  The trickier answer is that it seemed to start with a couple seemingly unrelated events.  

Almost a year ago, I got this idea to write an article about my daughter’s now former high school coach (Elsa Stegemann Binder decided to take a run at the AVP)  and her club team that had won JO’s exactly 10 years ago.  I had figured that it might be really interesting to find out what happens to junior players after they stop being juniors and Team Mizuno had this intriguing mix of Doctor, Singer, AVP player, teacher, Fitness consultant, etc.  Instead the article detoured into volleyball and club philosophy by contrasting the “inner athlete” approach vs. the “discipline” coach-centered style embodied by Sports Performance.  

I have no idea about anyone’s politics in this sport and I don’t expect the analogy to work on that level, but Rick Butler in certain ways is the Bill Clinton of our sport.  Some insist that he disgraced his position and should have been forced out of office. ( before I get flamed on this, I would make the distinction though that while supervising interns was part of the President's job, it wasn't to most an essential part of the job. I do believe that a volleyball coach's main job is to provide guidance to his/her players both on and off the court)  Others say that he’s done enough good for so many as an actual volleyball coach/club director and his club has been so successful that we need to move on about the other thing.  In any case, the issue never quite dies on volleyball message boards, but every now and then a thread breaks out about the evil corrupt Great Lakes Region that is in some sort of sordid partnership with Butler and thus willing to turn a blind eye in the name of profit.  In the meantime, rumor has it that Dubai Ports World has bought the Great Lakes Center.

Anyway, when I wrote the article, John Tawa asked me to put my real name on the article rather than the one given to me by Jay Ward.  One of the saddest things about being outed was that one parent even figured out that I wasn’t Pottsylvanian or at least didn’t look Pottsylvanian.  I would, however, never appear on national television in a white hat and white shoes while singing three minutes in falsetto.  To be honest, I’m not Pinoy either.  That was a first step.  A controversy broke out and suddenly I was talking to club directors from other parts of the country.  Not long after that I found myself indirectly exchanging e-mail with Don Shaw, Russ Rose, and Pat Powers.  Even more exciting to someone as odd as I, I’m back to exchanging messages with Ravi Navarisham and Joe Arkin who arguably are the fathers of posting on the internet about volleyball. I had slipped out of the realm of being your everyday ice chest and folding chair toting parent.

Eventually, I saw this long thread that made the 18’s qualifier sound like the NCVA version of Katrina, (well they both involved large numbers of people stuck in a convention center)  and Ed Cohen, an NCVA board member and the guy who runs Golden Bear, said something like “Well,I've never seen any parents come to our board meetings.”

You know how Jay Ward Boris can’t resist chasing Moose and Squirrel for the glory of fearless leader?  For five years, I had this strange job where I was supposed to help organize parents in inner city schools by having them assert their right to see their children’s classrooms and schoolwork and make their own judgments.  I learned two things.  First, very few schools actually were comfortable at all about letting parents see and evaluate classrooms.  One of the favorite lines was “What do we do if the parents show up drunk or high or start abusing their kids at school?”

It wasn’t a “race” thing by the way.  The teachers/administrators saying this stuff were often the same race as the parents.  It was very much a class thing, not as in algebra class but social class, but since a rigid class structure doesn’t exist in America…

The second thing was that it was very hard if not impossible to actually organize parents if you don’t live in their community.  We had a grant for me to wander from Strawberry Mansions in Philadelphia, to Anacostia in DC, to the West side of Chicago and reach out to parents.  Foundations give the money to organizations that write compelling sounding grants.  Foundation officers often come out of certain schools and places.  The people who write grants that appeal to them…..One of my private jokes was that in five years I think I met every black and Latino person who ever went to Andover, Swarthmore, and NYU law school in the Boston-DC corridor.  I didn’t, however, ever meet Condaleeza Rice or Bryant Gumbel.  Actual parents often literally spoke a different language from the folk on the Foundation track.  The other thing is that while some of these areas aren’t say as safe as hanging out in the NCVA office, it’s not constant gunfire and drug deals.  People from Hinsdale and Evanston don’t visit the former Robert Taylor projects or say Westinghouse High School nearly enough and vice versa.  

Just an aside here, one of the fascinating things about Anacostia is that you can get a cab from Connecticut Ave to take you there, you just can’t get a cab to pick you up anywhere in Anacostia.  

That’s my long answer about how Ed Cohen said the thing that inevitably led to my calling NCVA for the first time after fourteen years as a volleyball parent.  After all this money and time, I simply always assumed that there were these gnomes running around the regional office who made everything right more or less like the House Elves at Hogwarts.  I figured everyone just did it for the “good of the girls” etc. It had never occurred to me after five years of asking these sorts of questions in my work life to ask the simple vision questions.  

  1. How do the bylaws work?

  2. How does one get on the board and when and where do they meet?

  3. What do they meet about?

  4. What’s the budget look like?

  5. Is this stuff non-profit, for profit?

  6. Who exactly does listen to concerns about length of tournament, safety, brining food, etc.?

  7. What if a parent has a problem with his daughter’s club?

  8. What do we really know about the scores of clubs and hundreds of coaches who serve our kids other than what our clubs tell us?

  1. What is the real cost of all these tournaments and what do we get for it as the folk who pay for them directly?

I genuinely had no idea.  I think this may be because most of us consider this our family recreational time.  When we take the kids to Disneyland, we generally don’t ask to see the annual report. On the other hand, while I do understand that one of my club directors actually goes to Disneyland quite regularly, I’ve never personally spent tens of thousands of dollars of our family’s discretionary income at Disneyland, Disneyworld, or Euro Disney.  There are times though when I have wondered about the number of Buzz Lightyear items that my daughter has collected over the last two years.  Please also understand that Mrs. Boris and I are genuinely disturbed in some ways.  Partly because we do have an older daughter who does this for a living now, we actually do have dinner table conversations about recruiting opportunities, the virtues of various offenses, which girl is playing where and doing what, and the advanatages of Jos vs. Festival.  

     In that time, I’ve been getting “deep throat” like warnings (Mark Felt does live in Santa Rosa) on the prepvolleyball message board to watch my back, etc.  So that one started with tape on a door at the Watergate Hotel.  I actually hope this one begins and ends with a 2% grade under a tent in the San Jose Convention Center.

The Volleyball Stuff

     Oh geez, how do I get back to the whole Vision thing?  How’s this, my daughter’s started doing Beach and she’s learning from Kelly Van Winden who once played 3 man beach with Gabrielle Reece and a former UOP via Petaluma High player named Katie Eldridge?  Ripp away the curtain and the volleyball world is shockingly small with fewer degrees of separation between even random parents like me and pretty much anyone in the sport than say a setter’s scrunchie chasing a tight set into the net.  

     The first Gold league tournament started with 5 teams from 2 clubs.  My daughter’s Empire Mizuno team had to play the Empire 16-2s in one pool.  Three Vision teams were playing one another in a second pool.  I think the powers that set the seedings at qualifier knew that this was sectarian violence month so there obviously some sort of conspiracy that led to these drive an hour so you get to play the girls you scrimmage against in practice thing.  I believe it’s very difficult to play a team from your own club.  The two team in particular is generally out to prove something and the one team is in this odd position of having nothing to gain from winning the encounter and months of teasing if they happen to lose.  The Empire 1 vs. 2 match was exactly that.  I would guess that more points were scored on missed serves in the match than actual well hit kills because both teams were profoundly uncomfortable in the situation.  A similar thing happened between Vision 16-2 and 16-1 with 16-2 actually winning the first game and pushing the one team very hard.  In any case, I did notice that neither of the “Is this practice or is this a real tournament?” pools produced sterling volleyball.  
     Empire 16-1 did save face some by beating Yahoo, the incoming 1 seed in two close games.  Sadly, some Yahoo parent spoiled it for us by telling us that their setter has mono and that one of their lefts broke her collarbone.  With all that, Yahoo still has a very strong pair of lefts.  I suspect that the middles might have been hampered by not having their regular setter.  There was a stellar 1 blasted late in the second game that made me wonder why I hadn’t seen more sets to the middle even before I knew about the missing setter thing.  It’s hard to say if “healthy” if they deserved to be the 1, but this group at this point was less consistent and tenacious than some of the really strong Yahoo teams I’ve seen in the past.  That may be because large parts of the really strong yahoo 15’s from last year were wandering the gym in non-yahoo jerseys, but who knows.

I should mention that Empire 16-2 fought hard and showed tremendous heart in getting into gold at qualifier, but once there they suddenly seemed to be asking themselves the wrong question as in “Do we belong here?” rather than “We earned this and we’re going to show everyone.” This isn’t my thought.  It was actually my daughter who mentioned it to the 16-2 coach who then relayed it to me.  One of the interesting things about being a parent is that my daughter is much more profound than I am and much smarter in too many ways to count.  It doesn’t necessarily show up in ways that school folk recognize easily (though she’s a good student) and part of why we love volleyball is that it’s been a place for some of that to come out.  Of course, it’s also been a place where the fact that she’s just 15 also comes out at times. :}

Anyway, my daughter’s team was unexpectedly holding the number one seed and I found myself looking around the gym scratching my head because there were so many scary teams out there who we hadn’t played.  On the court next to us, there was a very imposing and strong-armed Force team that was struggling with a scrappy Delta Valley 16’s team.  Through the day, Delta kept scratching in its matches.  They’re a quick tenacious team that doesn’t have the big gun hitter types that usually catch people’s attention like Golden Bear’s Kyle Lamet (their roster doesn’t have numbers on it) or say Yahoo’s Bridget O’hara.  Delta came from behind in the third against Force without once hitting a hard ball in the last 10 points.  Lots of jousts in the middle with Delta’s very intelligent middle just slipping the ball around the block and in front of the ten foot line and refusing to make obvious mistakes. A similar thing happened in Delta’s match with Golden Bear with Delta coming back from 10-14 in the third to win the match.  Gold Cal has a couple huge middles and one of my favorite players, a setter Cora Harms (hope I have that right) very slight looking but explosive blonde haired girl who I think might still be a 9th grader) and I watched them in a very tight match with Golden Bear (is that right?) in which one of the games went 30-28 with some great points.  I didn’t see a lot of Norcal other than they had good size and for whatever reason I didn’t see City Beach play at all yet again.  It’s my fate in life never to meet SouperDave or Chris Crader in person.  

My daughter’s teams first playoff match was with Vision 15-1.  I looked up and the score of the first game was 10-1 Vision.  It’s bad to lose to a 15-1 team, it’s really bad to lose like this.  Vision 15-1 does not have a single player taller than 5-11.  They maintain an extraordinarily high energy level on or off the court.  If you remember Sarah Hughes, it’s like they’re too young to know that they’re supposed to be nervous playing an older team.  Of course, most of these girls beat the current Empire 16 one team when they were City Beach 14’s at Bayview last year.   Grrrrr….blah…. It was interesting to watch Ashley Bjorklund, an assistant coach who looks not much older than her players, more or less going with that 9th grader energy level with her players literally jumping up and down during the match and doing these too frequent “roof” celebrations on the sideline.

At the time, from our point of view, we were saying why can’t our team return serve or block either Katherine Fisher or Candace Silva-Martin from the left?  This is a nightmare match! We’re just not ourselves! Since our players didn’t have any injuries this week, we decided to blame it on the Turnabout Dance at three of the high schools.  Surely it was because too many of our players were thinking about making the dance on time with the soon to be breathalyzed young man of their choice just a couple hours away instead of focusing on the rockets coming from this much shorter team on the other side of the net.  It hadn’t quite dawned on the assembled Empire parents that Vision 15-1 was just really good regardless of whether this was a good day for my daughter’s team or not.
The second game started better, but Empire was victimized by a service run and despite a 10 point stretch where Vision 15 actually looked like 9th graders, Empire could never quite take the lead back and Vision 15 won easily.

     Two hours later, one problem with the format is that once playoffs start there are some very long waits.  I then watched Vision 15 do exactly the same thing to Delta that they had done to Empire.  It occurred to me that Vision 15 was actually just good.  Katherine Fisher in particular seems to have great timing and at 5’8 hits effectively from the backrow and hard enough to overpower double blocks at times and disable DS’s who are right on the ball.  Molly Bagshaw sets very cleanly and Elizabeth Trambley has a very consistent jump serve.  Lauren Bajtos gives them a very credible threat from the other side as well.  Worse yet, the whole team plays defense and they all seem aware of the ball at almost all times which suggest that Mike Shulko’s doing a great job with this group thus far.  One consequence of this is that Vision 15 has really loud enthusiastic dads on the sideline.  

Btw, I was able to do the name thing here, because Vision has all the info on its website.  
It’s, however, even cooler that Gold Cal has the finances for each team up with its rosters.

My daughter’s team then waited another two hours to play Golden Bear which I think in some ways will be sort of a bellweather team in Gold this year.  They have a big hitting left in Lamet, a very good no nonsense setter in Sarah Taggert, a very good libero in Molly Abel, and a DS in Audrey Kuan who I saw have more of an impact on a couple games than one normally expects a DS to have.  I don’t know that this was a memorable match for Empire either in that as much as any team there the Empire 16’s looked like they were still getting used to playing in real tournaments.  I suspect that’s part of the price of not having been pushed very hard on our end of the qualifier bracket.  Up to yesterday, my daughter’s team had only played one really tough team, Delta Valley 18’s thus far.

The days final wound up being Vision 15 vs. Vision 16-1 and my daughter’s team got the dubious distinction of getting to ref the last match in the gym, what better consequence for worrying more about Turnabout than volleyball (I’m kidding, really).  Unlike most matches between the Williams sisters in tennis, this was a great match.  Vision 16-1 is bigger and obviously more experienced than the 15’s, but there were points when the 15’s were literally outhitting them.  16’s has a much more been there done that presence and at the beginning of the match they went about the business of building a slight lead which disappeared at 10-10.  There was a blocking sequence with 16’s very good left-handed right Taylor Smith where both teams exchanged full force swings, blocks, digs, and the 15’s didn’t blink.  At one point, the ball spun wildly off the net on the right side and somehow the point stayed alive.  In another early sequence, Katherine Fisher was set in the back row and delivered a full on swing that left the Vision 16’s backrow just sort of shaking their heads.  At the 12 point mark, it became obvious that the match was going to be about more than the 15’s just trying to keep it respectable.  Ultimately, the 15’s combined with the 16’s going long a few times on big swings (there was an ongoing discussion during the day whether the blue squares on the lone non-hockey rink court there signified out or in) pulled away late in the first game and there were all these not too tall 9th graders celebrating on the sideline.

For most Norcal folk in this age group, the Prang twins may be the most recognizable players in the region who aren’t named Murray or Gill.  Part of that is that they’re very good setter/leftsides respectively who play with intensity and intelligence.  Another part is that they’ve never been with the same club two seasons in a row in the last four when my daughter first faced them when they were on City Beach Black 14, the next year they were with Vision 14’s, then last year’s strong Yahoo 15’s, and now they’re back with Vision.  Clubshifting is a way of life in present day Norcal and because they’re twins and quite good, it’s easy to notice that the Prangs move around a bit.

The second game was a combination of Tanya Schmidt, a tall middle who looked to have a very quick second jump, and Taylor Smith both started to assert themselves and their size advantage more consistently.  There was also a great point where Lisa Prang hammered a left full force only to see it dug by I think it was Ashton Senner.  The point went on for a few furious exchanges then Prang roll shotted on the same side.  Middle of the second game the 15’s either started to tire so slightly, I’m wondering about their high energy level throughout the day, or the 16’s just started taking care of business.  Some of the hard swings that were going through started getting soft-blocked or dug by the 16’s Katie Ring and Lainey Gera while Smith in particular was ending points effectively.

There are these moments during every season when you have to take stock of where your daughter’s team is.  It was clear to me that my daughter’s team and most of the rest of the Gold divison is not currently at this mental or physical level.  The two Vision teams were bringing a high level of intensity and execution to the court in this match.  Another one of my team’s parents put it simply enough, “This was the first match of the day that looked like serious volleyball.”

Neither team had players make runs of three mistakes in a row.  Both teams played the majority of the match letting the other team know that it would have to earn its points the old-fashioned way.  Vision had 3 teams in gold for a reason.  I honestly expected the third game to be an exercise in the 15’s deciding that they’d made their point and could go home now as happy freshmen who’d scared the big girls.  16’s kept pushing out to a  slight lead and 15’s would even it, but suddenly the score was 14-12 in favor of the 16’s.  
On 13-14, the Vision 16’s hitter went up to close the game out on what looked to blast through the middle.  I can’t remember remember which 2 15’s players went up for the block, but the ball went straight back down in the 16’s court like something out of a D1 college match.  I point out that 15’s has middles who are 5’11 and 5’9 and neither of their lefts are taller than 5’8.  What’s that say to people who insist that the height really begins to matter in 16’s?

Those of us who were left were stunned by that moment because it was literally very young players stepping up at a very big moment in a match where they were supposed to be the ones who would’t stand the pressure.  The upset, however, was not to be as the 15’s player missed her serve (finally one of them looked like a 9th grader for just a moment) and then the match ended with a short soft roll from Tanya Schmidt.  

At this point, Vision has the rest of the region in the 16’s rear view mirror.  Empire goes to 2 qualifiers before it attends the next league dance.  It’s going to get more competitive, but I have to say that the top two teams deserve to be there and I feel a lot better about my daughter’s team losing to a mere 15’s team.

Link to more chancelucky volleyball stories


At 2/26/2006 04:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI - Kristin Winkler is on Vison 15-2's. Ashton Senner is the libero for Vision 15-1's. Great article!

At 2/26/2006 05:43:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for the correction, I made the change. I'll have to watch Vision 15-2 some time. :}

At 2/26/2006 05:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well spoke methinks! Great article that makes me feel like I was there. Thanks!

At 2/26/2006 07:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooooh! Come to m daughter's matches & write them up! I had a virtual experience, there, Boris!

At 2/26/2006 10:49:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks for the kind comments.
Anonymous, I can attend a match anonymously and write about it, but it's hard to attend an anonymous parent's daughter's match and write about it with any kind of specificity :{,

I do notice that I have an easier time writing about 2 other teams playing than when my kid's team is involved.

At 2/27/2006 10:03:00 AM, Blogger pissed off patricia said...

Just wanted you to know that I deepley appreciate your comment on my America? post today. Thank you so much! My heart was in that piece.

At 2/27/2006 10:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great write-up. I'm sorry about blowing your cover (GB parent) but I really wanted to acknowledge your efforts to communicate with NCVA. Thanks for the nice words about Golden Bear. #7 is Kyle Lamet, MB from Carondelet, Libero is Molly Abel from Campolindo, the setter is Sarah Taggart from St. Ignatius, and DS is Audrey Kuan from Castilleja.
BTW,I forgot to mention that Moose and Squirrel sit on my computer at work....KRHA

At 2/27/2006 11:40:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

It was nice to meet you as well. I do hope that we do find better ways to communicate and work with NCVA's regional office and appreciate your taking the time to come by.

I assume you have Moose and Squirrel on your computer so you can push them off "side" and "kersplat" or give them "radiation exposure" so antlers melt. Is good idea yes?

Many thanks for filling in the names. I know that John probably gets rosters when attends tournaments, but it's really hard to remember who did what.

Looking forward to playing Golden Bear at least a few more times this season, just hope the results are different.

At 2/28/2006 08:06:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for coming by and for the kind comments. I'll stop by your page, once you get a few mrore posts up.


Post a Comment

<< Home