Great seasons often come to an end early in March. Teams that cruised through the regular season run into injuries, over-confidence, or just better opponents and walk off the court for the final time with an L next to their name.
That happened to M.’s volleyball team last night.
After winning their first nine matches, including the first two of the tournament, they dropped a 3-game match in the quarterfinals last night, losing 15–11 in game three.
They played hard, but the other team, St. B’s, was just better than them. Which hurt a little more as St. P’s had beaten this team during the regular season. But St. P’s was missing their second-best player, who had mono, and their normally reliable servers all seemed to lose their mojo in the tournament and struggled to rip off those 5–6–7 point runs that were so common during the regular season.
Most significantly, though, every St. B’s girl could serve. They weren’t all great, but each of them could get the ball over the net and into play. As I mentioned early in the season, that’s like 75% of the battle in fourth grade volleyball. Where M.’s team was killing itself by serving the ball into the net or out-of-bounds and wasting scoring chances, the other team almost always got 2–3 points from each server.
St. P’s lost game one handily. They had an early lead in game two, but trailed 20–13 before roaring back and taking a 24–22 lead. But St. B’s got it to 24-all and were serving for the match when their server put it into the net. They never had the lead in game three but were as close as 11–9.
I think the parents were more disappointed than the girls, although there were some long faces in the final post-game huddle of the year. Cupcakes in the school colors helped ease the pain a little, I think.
To be honest, though, they were fortunate to get to the quarterfinals. In Sunday’s opening round, they won game one easily, muddled through game two, and were down 7–1 in game three before rallying to win.
Then in Wednesday’s second round, they again romped in game one and slumped through game two, and were down 11–10 in game three after losing four-straight points against a really tough server. She sent one more high, looping serve to the back line. The St. P’s receiver, who had muffed three-straight returns, smacked the ball and sent it on a line drive toward the net. A teammate just happened to be in the way. As she ducked to protect herself, she got her arms up, popped the ball across the net, and it landed in. 11–11. St. P’s got it to 13–11, then lost serve and another point. 13-all. Fortunately St. P’s best server got the final two points to send them to the quarters.
I’ll say this, though. Losing last night may have been a good thing. The team they would have faced in the semifinals was amazing. They were also from St. B’s. They also had seven or eight girls who could serve. But they also had three girls who could serve better than St. P’s best server. One girl could serve overhanded from five feet behind the back line and pick what spot she hit. A couple others were still underhanded servers, but hit it very high, which always causes confusion on the other side. And then their best server was also an underhanded server, but sent it to nearly the rafters and then got the ball to knuckle on the way down. In their quarterfinal, she served 21-straight points to open a game! She only missed out on serving out the game because her coach asked her to switch to overhand serves and she flubbed a toss. Not sure what’s in the water fountains at St. B’s, but it clearly helps with your serves!
If our girls couldn’t handle St. B’s second-best team, there was no way they could have hung with their top team.
M. played her best game of the year last night. She had several returns and kept most of them in play. She looked confident in taking the ball and if her aim wasn’t always accurate, she generally hit it with the correct amount of power. She never got comfortable serving this year, and her coach subbed her out before she had a chance to serve in each of the tournament games. Which was fine with us. But I’m hoping that the combination of her liking volleyball so much, her realization of how important serving is, and not getting to serve in the tournament will finally get her to listen to me when I want to go out and work on serves in the driveway. As I told her last night, it’s really not that hard and if you can just get the ball over the net and keep it in play, you give your team a great chance to win the point.
So it was a great season overall. They didn’t lose a game until their seventh match and didn’t lose a match until the quarterfinals of the tournament. It was a pretty good start for a bunch of girls who had never played before.
Now we take two weeks off for spring break and begin kickball immediately after. C. will begin her first softball season and L. will be back on the soccer fields after spring break, too.
Stupid me did not know until last night that you only have to win by two in the third game at this level. So this would be the final point of the game regardless. ↩