Tourney Time: KU

Mid-March is here. The conference tournaments are complete. The brackets released. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yaaay…

It can be hard to get tone across in text. If you guessed, based on the opening lines of this piece, that I’m not super pumped about the NCAA tournament, you would be correct. However, unlike some recent years, I also am not dreading it. Basically, because Kansas has no shot to make a deep run, and I’ve known that since the second week of January, I approach this year’s tournament without any excitement for the possibilities the next two to three weeks hold, but also without any fears of the potential bad outcomes. KU is just a team in the tournament this year. They’re not a contender, but they’re also not a sexy pick to lose early. No one will be surprised if they lose early, and it will be a result of all the baggage this team enters the tourney with, not because “Bill Self/KU always choke” or something lazy like that.

My expectation is that KU will lose in the round of 32. Auburn is one of the hottest teams in the country, they just ripped through the SEC tournament and destroyed Tennessee in the title game, they shoot a ton of threes, and are a very athletic team that will give you fits on the defensive end. That sounds like an absolute disaster matchup for KU. But Auburn has a tough opening round game against New Mexico State. If the Aggies pull off the upset they’ll approach the KU game confident that they pushed the Jayhawks to the wire in December in Kansas City, and that was a KU team with Udoka Azubuike and LaGerald Vick.

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong and KU will get their shit together this week, cruise past 3-point happy Northeastern in the opening round then fend off whoever they play in the second round. After that is, likely, North Carolina in Kansas City. Normally I’d love that match up. Bill Self vs an angsty Roy Williams in KC with the crowd going nuts. But Carolina is rolling now and KU has zero answers for them at pretty much every spot on the court. The only hope will be that Roy, once again, is thoroughly confused when Self throws a junk defense at him and KU somehow hits shots late to pull the upset.

A fourth-straight trip to the Elite 8 would most likely see Kentucky as the opponent. A team that handled KU easily in the second half of their game two months ago, and has only gotten better since. Again, not totally impossible to imagine a KU. But highly unlikely.

It’s just hard to see KU getting those three solid-to-great performances each night you need to win in March. Maybe Dedric Lawson continues to average 20 and 10, but who else can you count on to perform at a high level every night? Devon Dotson is the most likely choice. But every night? And who fills that third slot beyond him? Too many question marks.

It’s going to be a disappointing end to a year that began with so much promise, but then turned into the most topsy-turvy KU season in a long, long time. The good thing about the disappointment is that we’ve known it is coming for a long time. When Auburn beats us by 15 Saturday it won’t hurt nearly as bad as any of those Elite 8 losses, getting thoroughly out-classed by Wichita State, failing to show up against Stanford, or Northern Iowa’s heroics. It’s going to be a bummer but won’t hurt that much and I won’t be ashamed to be a KU alum/fan for a month like I’ve been after some of those other losses.

More about the broader tournament later this week.

Friday Playlist

Some more rockin’ tunes this week.

“Satellite” – The Get Up Kids. This band might be the most successful to come out of the Kansas City/Lawrence music scene of the late 90s/early 00s. I run into people all the time who love them. But I was never a huge fan; emo just never was my bag. But this song hits me in the right spots, a fun little raver that makes me want to jump around.

“You’re Not Always On My Mind” – Quivers. I should have thrown this in last week’s list as this is yet another Aussie band. And yet another band that, as soon as you hear them, you know they are from Down Under. This is some top notch jangle pop.

“The One Who Breaks Your Heart” – SONTALK. After a dazzling EP debut last summer, Joseph LeMay dropped his first full album today. I first heard this song earlier this week and it blew me away. I’ve read some of the story behind it and, sadly, LeMay seems to be one of those artists I feel guilty about liking his music. He has struggled with his mental health for several years, often controlling his moods by disappearing into his studio for days and writing/recording music, ignoring his friends and family in the process. This song came out of one of those episodes, when LeMay decided to write a “What If” song, the question being how he would react if his wife asked him for a divorce. It’s a gorgeous song, all big and bright, but knowing that back story gives me pause these days.

“Darkness” – Pinegrove. I totally missed that Pinegrove released their second album late last year. I think some of that was because there was some controversy around band leader Evan Stephens Hall and some allegations made against him by a woman. No details ever emerged, but the band went on a hiatus and announced they were shelving the album until everything got resolved. They self-released the album on Bandcamp with all proceeds going to charity, and finally physically released it a month ago. The songs are good. I wish I knew more about what was going on with Hall so I knew whether it was ok to like his music again.

“Coaches Who Cry” – Wild Pink. It is March, so perhaps this song is about Roy Williams? From a new EP featuring remixes and some extra tracks from last year’s excellent Yolk in the Fur album.

“I Can See Clearly Now” – Johnny Nash. One of this week’s The Number Ones entries was this classic from 1972. Go read the summary, it’s great. Even better is this amazing video. Johnny just chilling in a park in DC singing for, well, no one it appears.

Going Out in Style

Hey! Another super long post about kids sports! This one is a little special, though.

After five years, M’s CYO sports – and likely all sports – career is over. It was not a bad ending.

Her volleyball team came back from the brink of losing twice in their tournament, closed out their arch-rivals in the championship game, and ended the season as B-league City champs!

First off, they got very lucky with how their tournament worked. Her team had a bye so started play on Saturday. A quarterfinal Sunday, semis and finals Monday night. The tournament that C’s team played in, on the other hand, stretches over three weeks for some reason. They won’t be done until a week from tomorrow. That’s just stupid.

Anyway, the games…

Saturday’s quarterfinal was an easy, two game win. They were way better than the girls they were playing, and it was a good sign they didn’t mess around and make it close. The only bummer to the day was the inevitable scheduling issues. We were match five or six of the day, with 45 minutes allotted for each match. I think we started about an hour and 15 minutes late. Sitting in a hot, crowded lobby with hyper kids running around was fun.

Sunday’s quarterfinal only started about 15 minutes late, which was much better. The competition was better, too. We lost the first game 25–20 but it really wasn’t that close. St. M was really good and seemed to never let a ball hit the floor. In the second game we were up most of the time but hit a lull in the middle of the game and dug a hole. We were down 21–18 and parents were getting nervous. We got the ball back, though, and one of our best servers won six-straight points to force the third game.

The third game was sensational. Our girls played the best they’ve ever played together. We started out 6–0 and never let St. M get back into it. We were up 9–3 and you could see the St. M girls getting frustrated. Meanwhile our girls were all giddy and bouncing and confident. They knew they were winning that game and closing out the match. They were running down every ball, getting last-second tips at the net, and our best hitter was putting balls away. We ended up winning 15–5.

M was so pumped after the game. She kept talking about how badly she wanted to go to the championship game and win it. The other St. P’s B team, made up of 7th graders, reached the opposite semifinal and she kept saying how she hoped they would win so it could be an all St. P’s final. Seriously, she said this same thing at least five times Sunday night and then again Monday morning before school.

Late Sunday night the team got an email from our hitter’s mom saying she had come home from the game, pretty much collapsed in bed, and now had a 102-degree fever. Not good. If you can’t go to school, you are ineligible to participate in any after-school activities. She’s probably our fifth or sixth best player overall, but she’s also the only girl who can play above the net. We would need her to win.

Around noon Monday the mom sent out a message saying the fever had broke, her daughter was up and feeling fine, and they were headed into school so she could be cleared for the game. It didn’t matter if she played well or not. If she wasn’t there I think it would have gotten in our girls’ heads, so her mere presence was all we needed.

Onto the evening semis. Our girls’ old nemesis, St. B, cruised pretty easily in their semifinal against our 7th graders. The first game was close but the second was something bad like 25–5.

We were playing HM, a team we had beaten 15–11 in the third game earlier in the season. This match ended up being almost exactly like our quarterfinal match. We lost the first set 25–20, although this one was back-and-forth until the very end. The second set was also very tight until HM squeezed out a couple points to go up 21–18. I leaned over to S and pointed out this was the same score that we started our comeback in Sunday. She looked at me like I was dumb. We ended up winning 25–22.


(I did not say that to her.)

Our girls were pumped. But they had also just played a very tight, stressful, three-game match while St. B had been resting for an hour after an easy win. A couple of our girls looked totally gassed. The girl who was sick had not played well at all. Oh, and our girls had never beaten St. B’s in an even-talent competition in five years.

St. B’s beat us 26–1 for a City title in kickball in sixth grade. They beat us two other times in the kickball regular seasons. They knocked us out of the semifinals in the fifth grade volleyball tournament. They had beaten us earlier in the season in two very close games. Hell, their A team had given our A team their only loss of the year. The only time M’s class had beaten them was in 6th grade spring kickball, and that was against a St. B’s team that was mostly fifth graders. And we still barely won.

I guess you could say we were due.

Surprisingly, our girls looked fresher to start the match. St. B’s big hitters kept putting it into the net. Our girls built up an early lead but then had three-straight servers put their first ball into the net. It was back-and-forth for a bit but we pulled out the first set, I believe it was 25–20.

The second set both teams looked tired. Play was a little more ragged than in the first game. We got a little margin and then it was a lot of point for us, point for them. Which was fine since we were up. Avoid the big run and we can nickel-dime our way to the win. They got within one point at 20–19 before a mis-hit gave us the ball with a 21–19 lead. We had a server who is capable of serving quite well but has a tendency to crumble in tough spots. So of course she had four perfect serves. On match point a hit sailed just long and our girls went crazy. They jumped on each other for a moment, collected themselves for the handshake line, and then piled on each other again. M’s voice clearly rang out above the shouting, “WE JUST WON CITY!!!!!” There are benefits to being a loud talker.

In the stands parents were high-fiving and hugging each other. There were tons of other St. P’s parents there between the other B team playing earlier and many of the A team families coming to watch. It was all very cool.[1]

The best thing about the weekend, beyond the results, was that M played the best volleyball of her life. This year she’s been a front-row only player and doesn’t get many chances to set because our best player is a setter. But she’s gotten better and hangs in there on points. In the third game on Sunday, she made a couple huge plays, including one punch of a ball that was headed into the net that avoided the defense and landed for a point. She set our hitters for a couple kills. She ran down a ball that was headed toward the stands. In the second game of the championship match, she made probably the three best sets she’s ever made, which her best friend put away for kills all three times. She’s always been one of those kids who was just on the team. A good teammate for sure, and a good friend. But often she had little to do with the final outcome. It was great to see her contribute, and I could tell she was proud of herself.

I thought it was funny that somehow she wiggled her way to the middle of her team and when the CYO director handed over the trophy, it went to her first. She paid her dues!

Unless something crazy happens, I can’t see her trying out for any sports next year. So after 10 seasons of kickball, five of volleyball, a few of soccer way back, and three summers of swimming, this was it for her competitive athletic career. It was a pretty great way to end it.

  1. A few miles away our C team was winning their tournament at the same time. And our A team plays tonight in their semifinals.  ↩

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 23

Chart Week: March 1, 1986
Song: “Beat’s So Lonely” – Charlie Sexton
Chart Position: #26, 12th week on the chart. Peaked at #17 for three weeks in March/April.

One-hit-wonders come in all size, shapes, sounds, and types. Charlie Sexton may be one of the cruelest examples of a OHW.

Sexton was a bit of a musical prodigy, trained in his preteens by legendary bluesman W.C. Clark. Soon after he was performing with bands and recording his own music. When he was 16 he recorded his first album, Pictures for Pleasure, which earned attention for his combination of Texas blues and Bowie-esque New Wave. The video for “Beat’s So Lonely” got sucked into the MTV hype machine based on Sexton’s good looks. It wasn’t a massive hit but did spend nearly five months on the charts.

After that, Charlie never hit the Billboard Top 40 again. He recorded more music on his own. He opened for David Bowie in 1987. But eventually he transitioned away from the life of a solo artist. He wrote music for movies and even had cameos in a few films. He formed a band with Stevie Ray Vaughn’s old partners. And he has been a long-time member of Bob Dylan’s touring band.

Really not a bad career. I bet he’s had a pretty steady paycheck for his entire adult life. Yet, to much of the music masses, he’s either forgotten or mocked because he only had one radio hit in the MTV era.

I wonder which is worse: to do what Sexton did by scoring a hit immediately and then never reaching those heights again, or to be like, say, Michael Sembello, another man who was a musical prodigy (he joined Stevie Wonder’s studio band when he was just 17) but had to work for years before his only hit, Flashdance’s “Maniac”? That’s probably not a fair comparison since “Maniac” is an iconic song of its era that still gets plenty of airplay, while “Beat’s So Lonely” is only remembered by us music geeks who delight in the esoteric.

I guess the important thing is to have the hit.

By the way, this is one of those songs I think the Music Gods wanted me to write about. Last week’s local and SiriusXM countdowns were both from 1986, and I heard this song a total of four times between Saturday morning and Monday afternoon. It was already in my Spotify library so I hear it a few times a year, but to hear it that often in such a short time was odd.

One of those times L was in the car with me and heard Mark Goodman talking about how Sexton recorded this song when he was just 16. When the song started and she heard his voice, she said, “HE WAS ONLY 16? HE DOESN’T SOUND 16!”

Nope, he did not.

Friday Playlist

“Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself” – Alex Lahey. We don’t deserve all the great music that Australia is pumping out these days. Last week Julia Jacklin’s newest album came out. Stella Donnelly’s was released today. Alex Lahey is next on the list, with hers dropping on May 17.

“In the Capital” – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Man did I get excited when I heard this track. A new album from RBCF in 2019?!?! Turns out this is just part of a 7” single that will be released in April. Oh well, this will suffice, yet another great track from one of the best bands going right now. Oh, they’re from Australia!

“Cellphane Car” – The Stroppies. Might as well go all in with the Tunes from Oz this week. These kids embody much of what is typical of Aussie indie pop music. And the name is pure Australia as well. It’s a goofy little song with some tinges of the 1960s in it.

“Recurring Dream” – Crowded House. Ironically, coincidentally, whatever it is, I had a Crowded House night earlier this week where I spent a couple hours listening to songs by one of my favorite bands ever. Being the greatest Australian band ever, it seems right to throw them in here this week. This amazing track is one of the earliest songs the band ever recorded, dating back to 1985. But it did not make their debut, self-titled album and other than getting an occasional live performance wasn’t made public until the rarities compilation Afterglow was released in 1999, or “noineen, noiney-noin” as Kiwi Neil Finn would say. 

“Breathe” – Prodigy.

OK, these dudes aren’t from Australia. But, for the second straight week, I need to play a video for a musician who passed away recently. Frontman Keith Flint died earlier this week, likely as a result of suicide. For awhile in the mid-90s American rock radio was a beautiful mess. Songs like this were what made that time so fun, balancing out the third-wave grunge ripoffs that were also polluting the charts. I probably said “Psychosomatic, addict, insane” a million times back in 1996-97. 

Reader’s Notebook, 3/7/19

I’m in the midst of a mighty fine reading run, so some quick blurbs about four recent books.

The Finnish Way – Katja Pantzar
I kept seeing this one on the ends of aisles at bookstores, highlighted in the library, etc. and finally caved. I had to know what the hell the Finnish Way was.

Pantzar, a child of Finns who was raised in Canada but moved to Finland as an adult, attempts to isolate what it is that makes the people of Finland unique. What gives them high rankings on all the various Happiness scales? Why are they so healthy? What allowed them to hold off the mighty Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939–40?

Turns out it’s a bunch of things. Swimming in the cold in winter. Taking saunas. Making wise choices about eating. Making being outdoors an integral part of everyday life. A mythical believe they call “Sisu.” And some other stuff.

I’m not sure if it adds up. And I’m not about to adjust my life to live like the Finns. I get whiney if the shower is a little chilly; there’s no way I’m jumping into freezing water in the winter to jar my system. The one piece of advice I would love to integrate into my life is the Finnish philosophy on how to build your plate at meal time. They often use a ½-¼-¼ rule. Half the plate is filled with veggies and fruit. A quarter with a starch. And the remaining quarter with protein. That seems like a good plan.

Uncommon Type: Some Stories – Tom Hanks
When this first came out I thought, “Yeah, right, Tom Hanks can write, too?” But several friends told me his short stories were, in fact, good. I can confirm those assessments were accurate. The stories aren’t great, but they’re not terrible, either. They all seem very Hanksian: warm, comforting, some touching moments, and central characters with just a touch of bite or quirk to them without being too oddball. Would I have read them if Joe Schmoe had written them? Probably not. But I didn’t regret the three nights it took to blow through Hanks’ stories.

Bud, Sweat, & Tees – Alan Shipnuck
Shipnuck is a long-time gold writer, formerly for Sports Illustrated and these days for Golf. This is his account of how Rich Beem, who won the 2002 PGA Championship, made the leap from talented but unexceptional college golfer to winning a PGA tournament.

Beam is a fine character to follow. He likes to live big but is also thoughtful and willing to share the inner workings of his biggest and lowest moments, both athletically and personally. He shares plenty of moments in his life that a bigger player’s PR pros would never let him share.

Also integral to the story is Beem’s sometimes caddy, Steve Duplantis. Duplantis was a one-time promising college golfer who spent several years caddying for Jim Furyk before his personal issues got in the way. He latched onto Beem in time for his first PGA win in 1999, but by the time that season was over the duo had already split. Duplantis’ life is kind of a disaster. He has custody of the daughter he had with his estranged wife, a stripper from Dallas. He tends to hook up with a lot of hot chicks he meets at bars. He goes off the rails when freed from his family responsibilities which causes him to do things like miss tee times. He’s a mess, but he’s a lovable mess. Sadly he died when hit by a taxi in 2008.

The book is funny and a solid inside look at what goes on on the PGA Tour for guys who aren’t at the top of the money list and are instead fighting every week to find that big win.

Warlight – Michael Ondaatje
I think this book was brilliant. Probably. But I just missed totally getting it by about this much (holds fingers an inch apart).

It centers on the life of Nathaniel, a man in post-war England who works for the British intelligence service. While a child, just after the war, his parents disappeared for a year “for work” and left Nathaniel and his sister with a strange assortment of characters that were, it seemed likely, criminals. This led to a series of adventures and crazy times.

As an adult, Nathaniel eventually stumbles upon files that tell of his mother’s work in Europe after the war and he begins investigating where she and his father were when they disappeared. Through that investigation comes the discovery of how and why his mother died. As he searches for the people who became his surrogate parents, he learns the fate of an old girlfriend and the secret she disappeared with.

That’s not a very good summary, I know. But, as I said, I just missed on this book. I could generically say it’s another book about identity and the meaning of family and all that jazz. Which it is. But I think there’s more to it and that’s what I missed. Maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Maybe I had my background music too loud and couldn’t concentrate quite enough. Maybe I’m just thick, as the Brits might say.

Regardless, I did enjoy it, and there were long passages that I raced through with delight.

It’s Over

Something was strange in our house this morning.

M sensed it. She walked down the stairs, paused, and said, “It feels weird in here. Like I kind of feel like I did when I was a baby, but I don’t know exactly how or what that means.”

L was on the couch, whimpering, muttering, “Dad? Dad, is that you? Why is it so cold, Dad?”

C was just crying, but that could have been her braces.

That’s what it was like for my girls to wake up in a world where Kansas was not the Big 12 mens basketball champions. Only M had lived in such a world, and then only for the first eight months of her life.

I kid, of course. My girls have no idea what’s going on.

And I? I was chill since I had resigned myself to this fate two months ago.

It was a bummer that the final result that eliminated KU came in a game where they got blown out by a team struggling to get into the NCAA tournament. It would have been nice to at least be competitive last night, or even to have pulled out a win to put pressure on K-State and Texas Tech Saturday not to blow it and let KU sneak back in on the final day of the season.

The Streak never made sense. No team should win a Power 5 conference even five years in a row in the current era. Carolina hasn’t done it. Neither has Duke.[1] Nor anyone in the Big 10 or Pac 12 or SEC. You would think Kentucky would have done it, but their best stretch under Calipari is three years.

Haters will say, “Well, that’s because those conferences are good and the Big 12 sucks!” Which is a classic garbage, sports radio caller argument. It’s not KU’s fault that the Big 12 traditionally puts up a collective turd in March. Which, unfortunately, is the primary way people judge college basketball programs and conferences these days.

Yes, the Big 12 hasn’t cranked out elite NBA talent like the ACC or SEC. But KU did have to get through Blake Griffin, Michael Beasley, and Kevin Durant, along with a host of other really solid NBA guys.

There have been a host of tough-ass teams that KU had to knock out each year. Some great Iowa State teams. Peak Press Virginia. Texas and Baylor’s annual collections of hyper-athletic 6’9” guys. The last Big 12 Missouri team. Some Texas A&M teams that were loaded with future NBA rotation guys.

Statistically, it just shouldn’t happen.

So why did it happen?

1) Talent. For sure, KU has generally been the most talented team in the conference. KU fans get annoyed/angry when someone like Quentin Grimes or Josh Selby doesn’t live up to their recruiting hype. Not many other schools in the conference ever get guys like them on campus. KU always has high school All Americans and five-star recruits. And even KU’s emergency recruits often pan out way better than expected. Frank Mason III and Devonté Graham being the two best examples.

2) Allen Fieldhouse. There’s Hilton Magic, the Octagon of Doom, Gallagher-Iba, the uniqueness of Morgantown. All of those are great home court environments and advantages. And none of them stack up to Allen. There’s always that 13–0 run waiting to kill a team that thinks it is going to pull of an upset in Lawrence. It’s a shock when KU goes 7–1 at home. It has to do wonders for a team to know they have 7–8 wins banked before the season begins.

3) Coaching. Bill Self is the best all around coach in the league, by far. Break down coaches in the league however you want. Recruiting, bench coaching, in-game adjustments, system, etc. At worst Self would be #2 in each category if you ranked them. Put it all together and no one else is close. He makes a big difference.

4) Luck. For something as statistically unlikely as The Streak, there has to have been a lot of luck along the way. John Lucas III’s shot that just missed at the buzzer. Kevin Durant rolling his ankle. Acie Law going off in overtime against Texas. Blake Griffin sitting out games with a concussion. Devonté Graham’s wild-ass shot bouncing in at Texas Tech a year ago. Massive comebacks against West Virginia in 2018, 2017, and 2015. Recruits who were supposed to make differences at other schools who never got eligible. And those February games that every team who challenged KU always lost.

To me the big bummer isn’t that The Streak is over. It’s more that this is the team that broke it. This team, as constituted today, is likely the weakest team of the Self era. It would have been better if a stronger team ended The Streak and then got all pissed off and went on a run in March. Last year’s team would have been a good example. Maybe they would have beaten Villanova if they had finished second in the Big 12.[2] But this team is too flawed for me to have any confidence they can win four games and get to Minneapolis.

One of the most remarkable thing about The Streak is that while KU had plenty of “rebuilding” seasons over its run, that never got in the way of winning the Big 12. This year was not supposed to be a rebuilding season. In fact, late last year ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla kept saying “If you don’t end The Streak this year,” meaning 2018, “when will you?” Self had a loaded recruiting class lined up, some high level transfers, and some very good returning parts. The Big 12 was supposed to be down. Number fifteen might be the easiest of the bunch.

But when Bill Self pulled the redshirt off Ochai Agbaji and shortly after LaGerald Vick left the team, 2019 became a rebuilding season. KU has been starting four freshmen for three weeks. Those freshmen have all shown moments of brilliance, especially Devon Dotson who has been really good most of the year. But they’ve also had plenty of games where they look young, confused, and without confidence. Unlike 2007 and 2009 and 2012 and 2015, the rebuild caught up with the Jayhawks.

It was a good run.

Rock Chalk, bitches.

  1. I define “current era” as under the current NBA draft rules that do not allow one-and-dones. Duke won five straight ACC titles from 1997–2001.  ↩
  2. No, D, they would not have beaten Villanova.  ↩

On the Orthodontic Tip

It’s been a busy couple weeks for two of our girls’ teeth.

M officially graduated out of her orthodontic practice two weeks ago. She had her braces taken off back in June but while her teeth emerged beautifully straight, her gums were “angry,” to quote her orthodontist. He floated the idea of some minor laser surgery to clean them up but wanted to give them more time to heal on their own first. Fortunately by mid-February the natural healing process had done its thing and she was given the all-clear. We do have to remind her to use her retainer on occasion, but for the most part she’s done a good job with it.

With her out of braces, it was C’s turn. She had her first visit yesterday and got her uppers put on. She was not thrilled with the process.

We had actually planned on switching practices to one closer to our new house and school, but that office couldn’t get her in until April. I called our old practice last Friday, they had an opening Monday, and I signed her up. C was disappointed that she didn’t have more warning the visit was coming and that she’ll have them on over spring break. We kept telling her that if she gets them on now, and everything goes well, she’ll have them off before she begins eighth grade. That helped a little but she was still giving me side eye much of the drive to the office.

The aftermath of her visit has been a reminder of one of the big differences between her and M. M is a whiner. When she got her braces first put on, and any time they tightened her wires down, she would whine about how much they hurt. Like endlessly. We knew it was legit pain – or at least S did since I never had braces – but after a couple of hours your sympathy runs out.

C, on the other hand, is a crier. She bit something kind of strangely during dinner and that kicked off tears round number one. Despite a healthy dose of Motrin and melatonin the pain kept her from going to sleep, so she came into our room around 1:00 in tears. And this morning she was a mess between the pain and the lack of sleep. I’m hopeful she can power through the school day, and the next couple, until the pain calms down a bit and she figures out her new normal.

Kid Sports

One staple of the blog that I’ve ignored of late is the Kid Sports update. So, here is a long-ass post with too many details about what our girls have been up to.

M and C have been playing volleyball for the last couple of months. C returned after taking a year off and really enjoyed it. She’s still pretty spazzy on the court – there’s no other way to put it – and often that cancels out her natural athleticism. She also developed a bad habit of hitting the ball the wrong way. Her intent was clear: she was often trying to pass the ball to one of the few girls on her team that could hit. But sometimes she did it by passing the ball from the net to the back row. If you’ve not a volleyball aficionado, that is a less-than-ideal pass.

Her team – the sixth grade B team – struggled early, I believe they lost their first four matches. But they came on late, winning two of their last three, including a nervy, three-set win against the team that we bet will win the season-ending tournament. That was fun!

However, there’s something about this class… I’ve shared this during kickball seasons but the observation remains: these girls just struggle to show enthusiasm, they don’t have a leader, and if one girl gets down the entire team falls part. They had a really good coach this year – C said he was her favorite coach she’s had in any sport – but since he wasn’t a parent of anyone on the team, teaches at another school, and is super nice and positive, I think he had a hard time pushing these girls to improve their mental game. We know there were a couple personality conflicts within the team, too, that did not help.

I’m not sure what the coach, or any coach for that matter, could have done differently. I don’t think you can yell and scream at sixth grade girls. That would just make this group shut down even more. It’s frustrating because they have a bunch of good athletes and they are capable of playing better. But the hive mind takes over and sabotages them.

Yesterday was their first game of the City tournament. They lost the first set fairly handily but then had a six-point lead in the second set and seemed poised to push it to a deciding set. Until they fell apart again. They ended up losing the second set 25–21 to close their season.

C had fun, which was the important thing. I haven’t asked her yet if she’ll play again next year. We were just glad she had something to help her burn off some energy in the winter.

M’s team was about the complete opposite of C’s. They were the 8th grade B team, and had a couple girls that just missed making the A team that really pulled up the talent level. They went 5–2 in the regular season with their tournament starting next weekend.

M became a setter this year, and primarily played front row. Which was fine, except for the fact that one of her teammates who could have been on the A team is also a setter and has played club for four years. So a lot of time M just stood around and tried not to get in the way. She was generally subbed out when her spot came up to serve; I think she only got 3–4 chances to serve all season. Which was fine because she’s never wanted to practice outside of the season and was about the only girl on her team who still served underhanded.

I think all that bothers her a little. But she’s also always been more interested in being a member of a team than in how she performs. And over the past year she’s become pretty tight with a small group of classmates, a couple of which were on her team, which makes her enjoy the team even more.

As I said, they are 5–2 and generally play really well and are fun to watch. Their two losses were both very close. In their final home game they got pushed to a third set after blowing through the first set easily. They had serve, our best server started the set off, and she proceeded to serve 15-straight points to get the win. It’s not like she was serving ace after ace, either. The other team was doing a solid job returning but our girls just kept making plays. I think it got to 7–0 or 8–0 and then the other team just kind of gave up and we finally started getting some aces. It was crazy to watch, and we’re hoping that girl still has some of that serving in her when the tournament starts.

Also the volleyball program did a cool thing last Wednesday at the A team’s final home game. They invited M’s team to come and get introduced before the game with them. The seventh graders made signs for all the eighth graders and they were announced as one team. It was a nice way to end M’s CYO sports career.

As for L, she had zero interest in playing volleyball. Well, if she could have played on the boys team she might have been talked into it. She went home with one of her buddies after school and then went to his team’s practice. They let her serve and apparently she was ripping overhand serves. She still says volleyball is dumb because you can’t run.

Instead she’s been going to a weekly soccer shooting camp that’s run by a local high school coach. It is a small group – I think they’ve never had more than nine kids – that ranges from ages 8 to 14 with more boys than girls, so it’s been a good experience for her. She’s always been a natural and I never wanted to fix things that might not be technically correct but still worked for her. Her coach played national level soccer for his home country beginning when he was in his teens and then played professionally in the US. His son plays in the MLS currently. The guy knows what he’s doing. And he is great with the kids. She has learned a lot and I’m hopeful one day it will warm up so we can get outside and work on what she’s picked up. I think she will likely continue to take classes from him going forward as we figure out what the next step for her in soccer is.

As far as spring sports go, M is out. Some of her classmates decided to play CYO soccer but she had no interest. Eighth graders generally do not play spring kickball because they take their DC trip in the middle of the season. Her coaches and I decided last fall between that and the inevitable spring weather issues it wasn’t worth trying to make it work.

C is going to play kickball and we’ve finally talked her into running track. As good as she is at cross country, I think she can be even better at track. She has middle distance sprinter written all over her. I’m going to help coach her kickball team this year. A few weeks ago she asked me, “When I’m in eighth grade, can you help coach my team?” I told her I was going to help this year and she got very excited. That made me quite happy.

I am “forcing” L to play kickball again after taking the fall off. If she moves into a club soccer program next year she won’t have time for kickball anymore so I figured I should use my powers as coordinator to get her on the team one more time. She also decided to play CYO soccer so she can play with her classmates, although a couple of the classmates she wanted to play with the most ended up not playing. I was kind of against her playing CYO soccer. I’ve heard from other parents it’s kind of a mess because of the mix of grades – her team runs fourth through sixth grades – and talent. Fortunately she went to some clinics her coach ran last summer so he has an idea of her skill level and I don’t think the older boys will be able to push her aside.

Last Saturday they played in a 4-on–4 futsal tournament. It was a little strange because they made the team from the entire St. P’s program, so L was the only fourth grader on a team that had mostly seventh and eighth graders. She was about the smallest kid on the court and some of the rules restrictions slowed her, too. She didn’t score but came close twice and made a couple really good passes.

(Futsal is basically indoor soccer on a hard surface – in this case a basketball court – with out-of-bounds lines instead of walls. They played a variation this week that was without goalies, but also prevented the offense from shooting inside the basketball lane. That’s where she makes her money so she had a hard time getting good scoring opportunities.)

She had her first official CYO soccer practice yesterday, again in the gym because of the weather. C’s first track practice is next week. And I’m going to try to start kickball practice in two weeks, weather permitting. Then, as soon as we get back from spring break, the games/meets will begin.

Friday Playlist

It’s March! Which means accumulating snow Sunday followed by record cold for most of next week. Le sigh… Here’s some music to get you through the latest trash weekend.

“Capacity” – Charly Bliss. An ear worm that defies putting in a musical slot. I hear lines back to the music of at least three different decades in here.

“stay” – pronoun. In a somewhat similar vein is this track. It makes me a little jittery that spring weather still seems far off, because this sounds like a track for outside activities.

“Cotton Skies” – Westkust. GODDAMN ANOTHER ONE. Come on, spring, please get here quick.

“Ruby” – Strand of Oaks. OK, I’ll break it up a little bit. Here is the second fantastic lead single off of the up-coming Strand of Oaks album. I just hope this isn’t another one of those albums where he puts out all the best songs before the album, so listening to the entire piece ends up being a slight disappointment as there are no great tracks left to surprise us.

“It’s My Life” – Talk Talk. TT lead singer Mark Hollis died earlier this week; the cause has yet to be made public. I had a nice run with one of their greatest hits collections in the late 90s, although I always leaned to their early sounds. TT arrived as a New Wave or post-New Wave band, and were often slotted in with Duran Duran, a comparison that was never really fair. In time they dramatically changed their sound, making epic, complex, lengthy tracks that were highly influential on large swaths of future musicians. In fact I was surprised at the outpouring of comments from so many artists this week. Although I think I knew more about Talk Talk than the average child of the 80s, I had absolutely zero idea of the number of artists who drew from their work. This will always be, to me, their greatest song. In fact it’s one of the greatest songs of the 1980s.