I’ve shared quite a bit about L’s first basketball season. C didn’t play a winter sport, but did go to a softball clinic Saturday and had a great time. She’s excited to play both softball and go through her first kickball season this spring. That leaves M, who is in her second year of volleyball.

Unfortunately, we had a lot of conflicts between volleyball and basketball over the past month. And since I was coaching basketball, I only got to see M play in about half of her games. But I’m happy to report that she improved a ton from last year.

In her fourth-grade year, she rarely got a serve over the net and struggled returning the ball. She was one of several kids who made it onto the court only for a few plays before being subbed out without serving.

This year, though, she has made fantastic strides. She has a pretty decent serve. It arcs just over the net about 85% of the time, which causes all kinds of problems for the receiving team. Those front-line girls are never sure if the serve is going to be short, catch the net, or make it over. M has had a number of aces because the other team is frozen, unsure how to react. When I’ve watched her play, she’s had two different runs of serving five or more straight points. Most notably, this year when she gets subbed out, she usually gets put back in when her spot in the rotation is due to serve. It’s made me a little extra proud that a lot of the season she has been paired with a taller sixth grader. That girl comes in when their spot is on the front line, and M comes back in when it’s time to serve.

She’s done a really good job returning and passing, as well. Last year she seemed afraid of the ball, often made moves at it late, and if she made contact, she wasn’t sure where to aim. Now she calls loudly for the ball, goes after it,[1] and does a really good job getting it back over the net. It’s like she’s a completely different kid this year. She’s been a lot of fun to watch. It’s cool to see her realizing how much she’s improved, too. I think those moments of pride for kids who aren’t athletic studs from day one go a long way.

As for her team, CYO groups fifth and sixth graders together. St. P’s has five 5/6 teams this year and she got slotted onto one of the C teams. Which was about right for her skill level. M’s team finished the regular season 4–3. They go smoked pretty good in all three losses,[2] had a couple lopsided wins, and won their other two matches in three sets. This week is all practice before the tournament begins next Tuesday.

The level of play is much easier to watch at this level. Most girls are capable of making a decent play on the ball. There aren’t a ton of long rallies, but there are more 3–4 hit rallies than there were in 4th grade. As always, though, the serve is the most important part of winning. The team that can consistently start a point by getting the ball over the net has a great chance to win. And if they have a girl or two that can serve over handed, you can almost give them the game. In a match last week, the other team started out on an 11–0 run thanks to a girl who could smack her over-handed serve with some decent pace. She might have served out the game if she hadn’t sent one just wide on the 12th point of the game.

As with every sport she’s played, M is always excited to be part of the group. She’s enthusiastic and supportive. It makes it more fun to watch as a parent now that her skill level has improved and she’s a contributing part of the team. Throw in the ways she’s changed physically in the past year – she might still be around average height compared to her classmates, but she sure seems taller this year – and it’s like watching a completely different kid than we watched a year ago.

  1. Sometimes too well. As pleased as I am by this new-found aggressiveness, I did have to yell “Stay in your spot!” at her once last week after she called off the girl playing front-center when M was supposed to be in the back-left slot.  ↩
  2. I saw one of those losses. That school must be loaded with talent, because they had two girls that were in the 5’8’‘–5’9’’ range. On a 5/6 C team!  ↩