Monday, October 24, 2005

5 words short of a full novel on how I am now part of Urban Volleyball League's Co-ed Level D5 Division and Quad Champions!

++ Long title or not, that's what I became 1/7th of on Friday night. My (7 member) team from last season went through, as I'd mentioned, a fairly easy series of teams winning, I think it was, 21 out of 24 games. The real competition it turned out, were in the other branches of the playoff tree. which was welcome, certainly... but unexpected. SO unexpected in fact, that it turned out to have been staged... [insert suspenseful music here] as in: a mediocre team had acquired some "ringers" from the highest skilled divisions to help them out in the playoffs... which might have worked, had they been a little more sly about it - If you're trying to pretend that you've been playing for 10 weeks with a given team, it's probably best not to be overheard saying to your teammates "so your name was..? ...Mike, that's right" or.. "oh, by the way, I'm a lefty". They got disqualified, advancing us to the quarter finals.
++ The quarterfinals were against our only major competition we'd had during the regular season - in fact, one or two of their best players hadn't been there when we'd played them during the regular season and for whatever reason, during the quarterfinals, we decided to play like blind, autistic zombies on a world with very heavy gravity. All the pawing at the air and brain damaged cries for brains didn't seem to help us in the slightest. We summarily lost game one 15 -12. Since our strategy was working so well, in game two we jumped out to a 6-0 deficit... We were not only trailing, but now were also really quite pissed at ourselves. And then... 11 to 3. Eleven to three? What the hell? ridiculous. Not our unbeaten team! And then something happened... not quite the-Grinch-grew-a-heart "something happened" but sorta like that actually. We decided to look into this much rumored "ass kicking" thing we used to know so much about. No, not "ass kicking" literally, though we did consider that option too. We got on a roll... And how. Point after point piled up. Our serves were on, our hitting, blocking, passing, all of it. They took time outs - it didn't matter. They dinked and tried cheap shots that while legal, are signs of desperation - we plodded on. 11 to 12 - our first lead of the match. then 11-13. 11-14. 12-14. 13-14. Uh-oh. 14-14. 14-15.. phew... 15 all. 15-16 ... and finally, 15-17. Game three was played with a frantic, almost spastic intensity of focus. It's sometimes amazing how much the world drops away when you're singularly focused on the do-or-die game of a two out of three match. And yet, again, we stuck with our tried and true strategy of falling behind early... 7 to 3, 9 to 5, which point we woke up... 9 to 7, 10 to 11, 11 to 13, 12 to 14, ..15 to 13. Ta-daaa. Quarter-final champions. In the 10 years one of our teammates has been playing in various leagues, he'd never won a quarter-finals, so we took a second to relish the relative infrequency and specialness of the moment.
++ Next stop, the semi-finals - to be played a full month away. Why a full month? good question - so everyone can forget about the finals and go out of town? maybe. One of my teammates and I had (have) formed a new team so the semi-finals was a reunion of sorts with the team we'd recently help disband. A little awkward, yes.. but we all seemed to still remember each other's names so.. on we went. Oh. After our quarter finals match, we were told that due to the limited number of teams playing in the Summer league, we'd be playing teams two levels above us for the semi-finals and finals. Great - just what you want to hear a month before a match. And yet, it turned out to be just that... "great". We went into the game playing just to have fun, playing just for the hour or so of exercise and free volleyball this night of finals was offering us. Before the game had started, we'd watched the other team warming up a bit and noted that they had one of those "super tall / semi-unskilled guys" that I've mentioned before but that aside from him, only one other guy could really hit well. The other players seemed of average skill so... hmm... unless we were missing some telltale sign of our soon-to-be destruction.. it looked like we might actually stand a chance. And so we started. And suddenly... before anyone really knew what was happening.... we were in the lead - all the while trying to ignore the obvious shock we all surely felt for being in the lead. Shock turned to confidence... insurmountable odds seemed now... ahem.. "mountable" (sorry, I couldn't resist) .. and confidence turned to consistency... consistency turning into a great big steam roller. Game 1: us. Still, we couldn't help but feel like we'd been a bit lucky or maybe the other team had been in a minor funk... they'd certainly come out of the gates swinging in game two, right? Ri... Nah, not really. They did play well, but we played better - our confidence steam roller had a full tank of gas and was being operated by a highly caffinated Union steamroller operator from local 232. (huh?) So we ended up winning two straight games, 15-8 each, and were then called over to the referee's stand to be awarded one fancy-schmancy team plaque and silly muscle-tee shirt with Urban Volleyball League D5 co-ed Division Champions printed on the back. Uh-huh. A plaque for 7 people - That'll work well!
++ What now? Yeah, that's what we asked too. We were to play the winners of the next match for the Finals - which meant we sat on the sidelines getting cold while our opponents were basically 'warming up' with their semi-finals match. It did give us the opportunity to scout both teams playing to spot strengths and weaknesses, of which both teams had many of the former and quite few of the latter. What was in it for us to stay and play the finals match? - we'd already won our team plaque and t-shirt so... maybe we should save our team and our opponents the exhaustion of playing a second match? - such were the thoughts and doubts bandied about by my teammates and myself during our time on the sideline. And yet, the overriding sentiment seemed to be "well, if we just leave, then the winner of this match we're watching just wins the finals flat-out without doing anything for it". The competitor in us (or was it the spoilsport?) wouldn't let us do that, so... on to the Finals.
++ Our opponents star player in the finals was a 6'3", super-fit, red-headed lefty with a great hitter's swing but only moderate defensive skills.. the rest of their team appeared to be... let's say B+ at best (while our team always seemed to hover between A to A+ on great days and B to B+ on bad days) so again, it seemed like we might stand a chance, especially given our recent win over a team we'd considered better than us going in to the match. Long story short (yeah right - like I've ever made a long story short), we played well... really well. I was "on" or "in the zone" or whatever you wanna call it.. the rest of my team was, likewise. Gone was the inconsistency we'd sometimes display under pressure, gone was the frustration of knowing we could play better and gone.. or, well, absent.. was our supposed 'team captain' who it seems, was out of town for the week ... which meant that her negativity, her blaming ways, and her inconsistency were something we didn't have to deal with that night. We played a controlled, tight game but balanced it with the fun and laughs that comes from carefree confidence and taking the game, but not oneself, seriously.
++ And so we won. the scores were a lot closer against the finals team but I do believe we led them the whole way through two straight games. All in all... well, pardon the continued braggadocio but we were a bit in awe of our own greatness. Again, we were called over to the referee's stand and given [drum roll please] ... individual plaques. Did they cost $1 each? probably. Do any of us care? hell no. Will we display said plaques proudly? probably not.. they're super cheesy. And yet, I had to prop up the plaque and t-shirt on a bookshelf at home so I can look at it for a week or so and revel in my own (team) greatness. Why? because I'm 1/7th of the Urban Volleyball League D5 co-ed Division and Quad Champions and who knows when I'll get to say that again.

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