Wednesday, February 22, 2012

2012 Capitol Hill Classic

For many (even most) people, I suppose, Presidents' Day weekend is a welcome break to relax amidst the doldrums of February, to hit the slopes, escape somewhere warm, or whatever.  But as a coach for Metro American Volleyball Club in Washington, DC, Presidents' Day weekend is our biggest of the year, when we host the Capitol Hill Classic at the Convention Center, taking over four of the halls with 85 volleyball courts and hundreds of teams of every age group from 12-to-18-year-olds.

Since there are so many teams, each team was assigned either to the morning wave (from 9 AM to 3:30 PM) or the afternoon wave (from 3:30 PM to 10 PM), although of course various courts ran over if enough matches went the full three sets, etc.  Our 15 Central team drew the morning wave on the first day, with a fairly favorable schedule of ref-play-off-play-ref-play.  Our opponents were Under Armour Elite (Glen Arm, MD), Pittsburgh Elite (obvious), and Clash (Culpeper, VA), in that order.  At first glance, we had the biggest (both in terms of size and numbers) and most talented team in our pool, but, as is common with 14-and-15-year-old girls, consistency can be a major issue.

In our first match against Under Armour, our passing and defense were actually pretty solid, but we couldn't stop giving away points on hitting and serving errors.  Our 8 aces were balanced out by 8 serving errors, and there is probably nothing that annoys me as a volleyball coach as much as missing your first serve (which happened three or four times).  Our hitters had 14 kills, but also had 16 errors, and in the end, we made more mistakes than they did.  One particularly bright spot was Anna, one of our middle blockers, who had five blocks in the match and was almost certainly the best individual player in our pool.  This was particularly heartening because at the start of our season, Anna had hardly a clue as to what to do and where to go on the court, but since our second tournament has become an aggressive force all over the net, and the best blocker I've yet seen in our age division.

Close but not quite enough turned out to be our theme for the first day.  Against a Pitt Elite team with no subs, we maintained our passing while cleaning up our hitting errors (and snagging a few more aces), but lost in three sets because those hits that were no longer going into the net or out of bounds were instead going directly to the opponent's middle back, allowing them to run their offense more easily (and score more points).  Then, against Clash, the passing slipped, and the hitters once again became more error-prone as a result.  So we lost to them in straight sets, leaving us in fourth place in our pool, with an afternoon wave assignment for Sunday as a result.  I did have a couple of parents and coaches from other teams tell me that we were the best 0-3 team at the tournament, which was some small consolation, but I hoped that we would be able to regroup for the next day and not carry our losses with us.

Fortunately, Sunday was indeed a new day. We started a little slow, beating a Maryland Juniors team in three with solid if unspectacular play, essentially letting them make mistakes for us (which happened a lot, particularly on the serving end.  Next up, we faced our Metro counterparts from the South region, and this time got our hitting in gear, while stymieing them at the net with a quartet of strong blockers.  We beat them in two before turning around and hammering this poor overmatched team from Cherry Hill, New Jersey with 20 aces and near-perfect passing.  This left us in a pretty good pool for Monday morning, but our passing deserted us in our first match at 9 AM and we were done.  Still, it was a better result than last year, when we only one a single match with much of the same team.

Probably my favorite part about this tournament is that every Metro team participates (17 teams in total; 5 travel and 12 regional), and virtually all of them have an "open bench" policy.  Since our players stand at the end of the bench when they're not in the game (as they do in college), leaving about ten seats for the 2-3 coaches for each team.  But this means that I can wander over to a match that, for example, 16 Travel is playing and sit next to their coaches to observe both the players and the coaches, which can be very instructive. Two of our travel coaches, for example, are always talking to their players, telling them where to hit the ball, where the other team will be hitting, how to properly position themselves to block, cover, or play defense, etc.  Another of our travel coaches, on the other hand, either walks the sideline or squats in a catcher's stance, saying very little to his players but missing nothing, only occasionally correcting a player or disputing a call with the refs.  So I get to observe and learn different styles while essentially being a part of the team, and when two of those teams make the tournament finals (16 Travel, which won, and 17 Travel, which lost a nailbiter), there can be a lot to learn about how to do my job better with this obviously talented regional team I have.  We have a quick turnaround (another tournament Sunday in Leesburg), so hopefully I can put those lessons to use immediately.