Monday, February 10, 2014


Clutch is defined by Webster as many things.  Some of them are related to cars and the connection between the engine and the transmission.  Some of them related to handbags and grabbing or gripping things but that’s not the one that I am focusing on today.  The meaning that I am interested in is the one that says “clutch (adj.) – done or accomplished in critical situations; dependable in critical situations.

The last blog that I wrote focused on Hannah’s first volleyball tournament and how well her 11 year old team played in a tournament full of 12 year olds.  They showed a lot of spirit, team work and most of all a lot of promise.  This past weekend she had another tournament and this time, as before, they showed a lot of sprit and a lot of team work but instead of showing promise they showed a lot of progress and a lot of wins for the effort.

They played in the choo-choo city tournament that was sponsored by the host club, choo-choo city volleyball club.  As with most tournaments they started out with pool play.  They were placed in a pool of a total of 5 teams.  They were seeded 2nd in the pool based on their performance from the last tournament.  Only the host club was seeded higher.  As before the tournament consisted of only 12 year old teams except for them. 

As with most tournaments they play 2 sets against a team regardless of how the wins and losses go and at the end of the day the teams are seeded into the elimination brackets (gold, silver, etc) based on their total wins and losses.  The format for this tournament was that only the top two teams in the bracket would advance to the elimination bracket, meaning that 3 of the 5 teams in the pool would be eliminated at the end of pool play.  Last tournament Hannah’s team ended in 4th place by beating Team 205 but this was enough to get them into the silver bracket since 4 of 5 teams advanced.  That wouldn’t be nearly good enough this week.

Being seeded second they drew the first match of the day against the 5th seeded team in the bracket.  The took the court to play Tennessee Blaze 12-1.  Coach Heather told Hannah that she would be held out the first game since she missed a practice due to weather this past week.  The game went well and 11 Black held a 1 – 2 point lead most of the game.  The first set ended 25-22 with 11 Black winning.  It was a great way to start the tournament and super boost for the team.  The second game started and it was obvious that the girls were brimming with confidence after starting so strong.  Hannah rotated in for several series and made several saves and even a block attempt.  For most of the game Hannah was in a rotation with Sydney where Hannah would play the front row and Sydney would play the back.  Hannah would come out and Sydney would go into serve.  This seemed to work well but Sydney was a little hit or miss with her serving at times.  The second game was very impressive for 11 Black.  They got on a run and late in the game the score was 21-10.  Tennessee Blaze got on a serving run right at the end and made the score a little closer.  The final score was 25-22.  11 Black was off to a 2-0 start on the day.

The next match was against Team Sting 12 yellow.  12 Yellow is a group of big looking 12 year olds.  11 Black didn’t play 12 yellow in the first tournament since they were in a different pool and were in a different bracket during elimination.  The match started and immediately 11 Black fell behind. Hannah rotated in for several series and she (like most of the other girls) struggled to keep up and catch up with 12 Yellow.  As before the girls adjusted as they played to the speed and the power of the other team and by the end of the match were keeping up point for point with the older team. The second match started and this time 11 Black went on the offensive. They scored several points in a row and took a 4-1 lead. Hannah played the same rotation that she had in the previous match where she would play front row for Sydney. At a critical point in the match 12 Yellow had taken a lead and were serving to 11 Black.  They rallied the ball back and forth several times and the ball came back over the net short, Hannah stepped back and set the ball back over the net short to 12Yellow. They recovered the ball and passed it back over the net, Grace made a diving dig and Hannah got under the ball and set it. After a brief hesitation (11’s don’t set and hit that much) one of the other girls stepped up and made a hit on the ball and scored on 12 Yellow to tie the game again. 11Black went on to finish the game 25-21 and improve their record on the day to 3-1.

The girls had a little time off between their 2nd and 3rd matches so they ate and rested. Eating during tournaments is a tricky thing. Eat and drink too little and you’ll be tired and dehydrated from lack of food. Eat and drink too much and you run the risk of being sluggish and lethargic. When the third match started it was clear that the team was not as perky as they had been previously. The third match was against the team 205 12 year old team that 11 Black played in their first tournament. The match started and team 205 took a quick 7-1 lead over 11 Black. Everything that had been going right in previous matches was going wrong. The girls weren’t moving or talking and balls were hitting the floor like never before. At 14-8 coach heather called a time out to talk to the team. I’m not sure what coaches say to teams at critical moments in the game but whatever coach heather said during the time out worked. 11 Black returned to the court, shook the cobwebs off and started playing volleyball again. Hannah played through her rotations and the game ended with 11 Black winning 25-20. The second match was never in question.   11 black took an early lead and never looked back. The game was never in question and near the end coach heather put Hannah in to serve. Hannah has a really good serve but has struggled with having enough strength to get them over the net every time. She lined up took her stance and belted her serve over the net. It was low and fast and aced the other team. Her grin went from ear to ear. She lined up for the second one, lofted it into the air and served it right into the net. It was a good serve but just a little too low. The game continued and 11 Black won 25-13.  11 Blacks record on the day stood at 5-1.  Shortly thereafter 12 yellow lost a match and 12 black became the sole owner of 2nd place in the pool and guaranteed of going on to play in the elimination bracket as one of the top two teams in their pool.  It is truly amazing to think that a team of 9, 10 and 11 year olds can play with that much passion, enthusiasm and skill.  The team that struggled in the first tournament but played well and showed growth now was one of the dominant teams in the tournament and a force to be reckoned with.  11 Black had proven to be one of the best 12 year old teams that Team Sting had to offer this season.  I learned during the break between games that over the course of the season and practices that each of the girls has gotten a nick name.  Coach Heather’s daughter Maggie is Maggles, Anna is Anna Banana and Grace is Grace Face.  The girls like to joke and kid with their new nicknames and they seemed to be enjoyed their run of success on the day.

From here on out the girls were playing with house money.  Any win, any success past this point is just icing on the cake.  The final match of pool play pitted 11 Black against the number one team in the pool, the host team Choo-Choo City Volleyball.  The match started and 11 Black coming off of a dominating win against Team 205 jumped out to a 4-1 lead.  The game continued and 11 Black continued to lead up to the point that the score was 20-15.  11 Black rode strong serving and good defense to keep Choo-Choo citys best servers from getting on a run.  No other team had held a lead on Choo Choo City all day.  The shock of being challenged in this way was evident on the faces of the players and the coaches for Choo choo city.  The two lead servers for Choo Choo city were very good and had been dominating other teams all day but 11 Black was very effective in their rallies and limited them to a single serve each.  At 20-15 the lead server for Choo-Choo came back up to serve and managed to get three serves that 11 Black couldn’t return.  The score was 21-18 when their second server rolled up to serve.  Again the strong serving from Choo Choo city caused 11 Black problems as it had other teams all day, at the end of her run the score stood at 22-23 and 11 Black had lost their lead but they weren’t done yet, Sophie, 11 Blacks best server was up to serve.  Sophie’s first serve was an ace, 23-23.  Her second serve was not an ace but it was a good serve and 11 Black rallied to get the point, 24-23, game point.  Her next serve was a good one but Choo Choo city rallied and won the point, 24-24.  Choo-Choo city served next and won the next two points and won the match 26-24.  It was only the second loss of the day for 11 Black against a very good team.  The second match started and Choo-Choo city took the early lead.  The score was close for the entire match but in the end 11 Black couldn’t pull the win out and the set ended 25-22 in favor of Choo-Choo City.  Even though they lost two straight to Choo-Choo city 11 Black had played them closer than any other team in the pool and nearly pulled off what would have easily been the biggest upset of the day.  They finished second in the pool with a 5-3 overall record and were moving on to the elimination bracket.  They prepared to play the first elimination match against Team Sting 12 White as the other teams packed and left.

For the first match of the elimination round we had to move from Court 1 to Court 2.  Court 2 was located about 2 blocks away from court 1 in a much older gym that looked a lot like an old high school gymnasium.  Since 11 Black finished 2nd in their pool they were slated to play the number one team from the other pool, 12 White.  12 White and 11 Black had played before in the first tournament but 11 Black had come a long way since then and were a much more confident team than they were in the first meeting.  12 White and 11 Black took the court and the match started.  The match was back and forth with multiple lead changes.  The score went from 5-2 in favor of 12 White to 7-6 in favor of 11 Black.  Hannah and the other girls on 11 Black took turns in their rotations and played well.  Each team got their shots at the other team and it was a very tense match.  Late in the match 12 White held a slim lead at 22-20.  11 Black rallied on some strong serving from Sophie and Grace and several impressive digs from Grace and Sydney.  The score stood at 23-23.  12 White scored and made it 24-23, game point but 11 Black wasn’t done and return a serve for a score to tie it at 24-24.  Anna came up to serve and uncharacteristically fired her serve into the net, 25-24 game point 12 White.  12 White took the serve, 11 Black rallied it back and then when 12 White returned it again it was more than 11 Black could handle and it went out of bounds.  Game over 26-24, 12 White.

The second match started and just like the first it was a back and forth affair with neither team being able to gain a substantial lead on the other.  Hannah rotated in to play front row for Sydney and made several saves including one near block over the net that resulted in a score for 11 Black.  As with the first match the score stood at 22-23 in favor of 12 White.  Then everything stopped.  Kathyryn was standing in the middle of the court holding her face and crying.  Somewhere in the last rally one of her team mates had accidentally elbowed her in the nose.  There was no blood but it was clear she was in a lot of pain and her nose and cheek were swelling.  There was a brief timeout in the match and Coach Heather was given a substitution to replace Kathyrn.  Coach Heather looked at her sideline and at the girls standing there and after a brief hesitation said “Go Hannah”.  Oh my, my heart jumped up in my throat.  12 White took the serve and it came over.  Hannah was standing at the front left and grace took a dig on the ball and Hannah passed it back over the net.  12 White bobbled it and it fell to the floor, 23-23.  Hannah was up to serve.  12 White’s Coach called a time out.  11 Black went to the side line and huddled up with Coach Heather.  I learned later what Coach said to the girls.  She told them that she was very proud of them and they had played fantastic.  She said that they had a chance to win this game and then she looked at Hannah and told her that they really needed a point and to go out there and do her best.  The timeout ended and Hannah walked out on the court to serve.  She stood in the middle of the court with the ball at her side and took a deep breath.  The referee whistled the play in and Hannah took her stance to serve.  She lofted the ball into the air and the hit it harder than I have ever seen her hit a ball before.  The crack of her hand hitting the ball was something you could feel as well as hear.  The ball cleared the net by 3 inches and landed in the middle of the court untouched., ACE!!!.  24-23 11 Black.  The adults and other spectators erupted in cheers but the team was happy but solemn.  They knew that the game wasn’t over and there was still more work to do.  Hannah stood back in the middle of the court again ready to serve.  Just as before she lofted the ball and hit it over the net.  The middle back player went to a knee to dig the serve and popped it back up but to the right.  Two of the girls chased it out of bounds but were unable to get to it in time.  ACE!!!  Game!!! 25-23.  11 Black Wins.  The arena erupted.  Hannah and all of 11 Black went nuts.  9 little girls were jumping up and down and screaming.  They were all high fiving each other and especially Hannah.  In the midst of the celebration Coach Heather pulled Hannah close to her and said something to her.  I learned later that what she said was that she now knew what Hannahs nick name should be.  “Clutch”.  The best nick names are earned and Hannah earned hers with a gutsy couple of aces with the game on the line.





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