An early winter sports update, starting with L’s second year of basketball.

She is playing in the pre-CYO league run at her future high school by the girls coach there. I’m coaching her team again this year. This time around I have eight girls – four second graders, four first graders – all from St. P’s. In fact, of the four teams in the league, three are from St. P’s.

I had two of the second graders last year, and both have improved quite a bit. They are hitting some shots and can handle the ball a lot better. My new second grader is our tallest player,[1] is a good defender, and understands how to turn and shoot. L is probably our best all-around player, although she is way too cocky and tends to start giggling when guarding people she knows.

Three of my first graders get lost on defense constantly. A pair of them are twins, and in both of our games I’ve called them the wrong name at least once while trying to tell them to stay with their girl. Another first grader, bless her heart, looks scared to death 90% of the time. Each time I check her out of the game and ask who she was guarding, she gets a look of pure panic on her face. The fourth first grader is a lot like L: she’s fast, can shoot, goes after the ball after shots, and plays decent D. When those two are on the court together, we get a lot of fast-break opportunities.

Through two games, we are averaging 25 points per game. Which, based on last year’s scores, is just about right.

Ah, but the real story is how we got to that average.

Week one we scored six points. Week two we scored 44.

I know, right?

A lot went into that variance. Week one we played what I think is the best team in the league. They somehow ended up with the best athlete in the league and the most height. They just dominated us on the boards. And my girls could not hit a shot to save their lives. We caught the rim and the backboard over-and-over and nothing would drop. There were also a lot of week one jitters in there. We were awful matching up on defense and gave up too many open looks. Still, we only gave up 28 points.[2] I knew if we could learn to rebound and get some shots to drop we’d be fine.

This past week’s game was a lot better. We jumped out to a 12–6 lead. Then I got us lost in some bad defensive matchups without seeing them and we were on the wrong end of a 20–2 run to end the half. At halftime I told our girls it was my fault we lost our lead. I promised to keep them in good defensive matchups if they would just keep rebounding and working to get good shots.

So we promptly ripped off a 10–0 run to start the second half.

Coaching, man. Coaching.

There was also no defense in the second half. It was like the Louisville-Houston game in the 1983 Final Four: just up-and-down basketball for 20 minutes. On offense we kept beating the other team down the court and even made the occasional pass to an open teammate across the lane.

We had a 4–6 point lead for most of the last ten minutes. We got to the last minute and had a four-point lead. L got a defensive rebound and took off. She was 10 feet ahead of any defenders. I’ve been working with her on controlling her speed when no one is in front of her. She tends to go 1000 miles and hour and then fire the ball off the backboard, giving it no chance to go in. She had done better at jump-stopping and hitting short jumpers all day. So, naturally, this time she pulled up from 10 feet, threw the ball in the general direction of the rim, and hit nothing.

The other team went down, worked for a shot, and cut the lead to 2 with 10 seconds left. They called a time out to kill the clock, but were out of time outs. It’s a 1st/2nd grade league so the refs just had us inbound the ball. I should have called a timeout myself and told the girls to get the ball up the court and don’t stop, no matter what. Instead our girl with the ball dribbled right into a swarm of players, froze, lost possession, and the other team took off toward their hoop as the clock counted down.

If there was video of me in this sequence, you would see me screaming, at the top of my lungs, “STOP HER!!!!” Their player had a wide open lane with a chance to tie the game, while my girls chased and looked at each other, unsure what to do.

Fortunately, the shortest girl in the league had the ball. This girl looks like she’s four. She collected herself, tossed up a shot just before the buzzer sounded, and barely got it six feet off the ground. I went over and collapsed against the wall for a moment.

Our girls were happy that we won and I was immensely relieved.

This coming week we play a team that I think is a pretty even matchup for us. We practiced last night and they seemed to be understanding the idea of not chasing the ball and staying between your girl and the basket on defense. Then we scrimmaged and half of them were standing on the wrong side of the ball.

M and C are both playing volleyball. They’ve been practicing for a couple weeks and start games next week. M is playing for two coaches she’s had before, and they’re starting to have them run actual offense. I haven’t seen them practice, but I think M is going to be one of the setters. She really enjoys playing.

I’m helping coach C’s team, which is kind of a funny story. Her coach is a mom I know a little bit. She doesn’t have a daughter in 4th grade, but coached last year as well, so I figured she just liked coaching and this was part of her time/treasure/talent contribution. When I told her I’d be happy to help as my schedule allowed, I thought about mentioning how I used to play a lot of rec volleyball and even won a 4-on–4 league one year! I’m glad I left that out, because when she sent out her introductory email to the entire team, she mentioned how she played D1 volleyball. I looked her up and she’s still third all time in assists at her alma mater. Yeah, my little 4-on–4 championship experience will really come in handy!

C’s team is funny to watch. This is their first year playing, and most of the eight girls are big goofballs. Like most fourth graders, they struggle at returning and passing. But we have a few decent servers so hopefully we are decent.

  1. Which isn’t saying much. My team is small.  ↩
  2. Actually 26. One of my first graders hit a sweet, 10-foot jumper. Alas, it was in the other team’s basket.  ↩