On FIRE!

BAM!I love beach volleyball.

This is not news to anyone who knows me (and if you don’t know me, just page through some of the posts when you click on the “beach volleyball” tag in the lower right of the screen – you’ll catch on pretty quickly).  If you ask me how my weekend was during the six months in Kansas City when the weather isn’t defined as “stupid cold” the chances are the answer will involve beach volleyball, and the words “awesome”, “spectacular”, “incredible” or something similar will be the adjectives attached to it.  On Saturdays I play in basically every tournament that I can out at Volleyball Beach and on Sundays I get to play with some really fun friends of mine in the drinking league as well as some competitive sixes then some great quads (we’re sitting in second place at 8:00, first at 9:00), followed by as much pick-up volleyball as we can get before the lights shut off.

And I’m not a bad player, either – playing an average of 20 hours of volleyball a week over the summer you’d expect would have some positive effect just by sheer numbers.  I’m definitely not the best of the beach but I can typically hold my own in A-league sixes or quads and at least be somewhat competitive in doubles.  I don’t have a problem sacrificing my body for a save and – at least at this point in the season – I can get myself back up relatively quick to keep the play alive if the need arises.

But compared to what I got to witness this Saturday at the May Fire tournament at Volleyball Beach I felt like I was at a level roughly equivalent to the beer-drinking F-level player I was when I started playing the sport I so love eleven years ago (and with that I’ll give a special shout-out to all my teammates at that time that didn’t immediately vote me off the island…)

OK, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration but when you’re watching players that are in the top 100 in the country in the sport battle it out for hours on end it’s not hard to feel like you’ve barely scratched the surface of the sport.  There were eight nationally-ranked players out there, if I remember correctly (that would be eight people ranked nationwide in beach volleyball travelling/playing in a tournament in the middle of the freaking Midwest in case you missed that context) so you can imagine you were seeing some pretty impressive matches.

If you’re not a beach volleyball fan you should be.  But that aside it’s really hard to appreciate how awesome the sport is without watching it.  I don’t have any video to show you (although I think Howard is going to get some up on the site or on his Facebook page) but I do have some pictures that I took (and by “I” I mean myself, a friend of mine and my 7 year-old).  You can see them below; just remember to keep reading since there’s more recap underneath the photos.  I tried to get some of the action shots around hitting/blocking; in retrospect I wish I would have captured some of the absolutely incredible saves and digs that happened, as well.  But hindsight’s 20/20 – and regrets have no place in The Paul Gillespie Experience.

I wasn’t there originally to watch the doubles matches – if you know me you know I’m there to play, whether it’s sixes, quads or doubles.  This year the Sandy Pirate Hookers (my Sunday night quads team) put our hat in the intermediate quads ring.  The tournament started at 10am with three matches of pool play (3 games each) so the sun was in prime beat-down location, roasting everybody as those of us who don’t actually tan slathered on sun block (to those of you who replaced the “lobster red” phase with a “golden bronze” phase instead – I hate you.  All of you.  Twice.).  We started off playing against Glen’s team (who ultimately ended up playing against Maureen’s team in the finals) and dropped the first game before winning the second one.  The third game we couldn’t quite keep it together and we ended up losing the match one game to two.

The second match was against Amy – of Donkey Punch and “BLADE!” fame – and her team.  We couldn’t get our groove on there, either, and as such we only won one game out of the three we played.  We didn’t play poorly as much as we just couldn’t quite hit the rhythm we were used to hitting on Sunday nights.  Maybe it was the sun, maybe it was the absolutely gorgeously-manicured sand we were playing on, maybe it was just a team-wide subconscious desire to watch bikini-clad women and shirtless men play doubles, but whatever it was we couldn’t quite click.

Until the third match.  That match was – easily – the best one we played.  It was against a team that ultimately ended up going into the power bracket.  We wished we’d played them first – I think if we’d squared off against them we would have forced ourselves into a groove for the other matches and given a little more competition.  We ended up dropping all three games but they were by far the closest – 20-22, 19-21, 20-22.  We had great passes, great hits, great blocks and almost a couple of wins to boot.

Oddly enough our 2-7 record put us as the second seed coming out of our pool – primarily because the original #1 seed bumped up to power and we had a better point spread than the other 2-7 team (even though head-to-head they beat us 2 out of 3).  We squared off against the #3 seeded team from the other pool in the first round of the single-elimination tournament (best of three games) on the silver court.  Those games weren’t nearly as spectacular as the other ones were – we ended up dropping two straight to move our tournament-ending record to two wins, nine losses.  After about four and a half hours of being out in the sun playing four-person volleyball we were ready to grab an ice cold water and watch the end of the doubles matches.

That was a sight to be hold.  The men’s matches were played on orange and black; the women’s on yellow and blue (for context, straight off the deck is the orange court with the black court just beyond that.  If you’re facing off the deck to the right of orange is blue, the right of black is yellow).  We were sitting on the divider between the upper- and lower-deck – a great vantage point for watching everything happening on orange, and there was a lot happening.  I saw some absolutely spectacular blocks, wicked-hard hits (and some incredible reactions on those) and picture-perfect sets.  Taylor (who took third place along with David Duncan who’s a favorite out at Volleyball Beach) served the ball so hard a couple of times I’m pretty sure the echo could be heard in Kansas.

This wasn’t an ordinary tournament final (although those are fun to watch, too).  This was true competitive doubles volleyball with $1,000 on the line for the winner.  We sat there transfixed, taking the occasional shot for Jen’s birthday and drinking some Summer Shandy for about four and a half hours.  And we weren’t the die-hards of the bunch, even.  There were about 15 people who were in the shade of those 10×10 foot portable canopies/tents that weren’t even playing – they were just there to watch and cheer.

It was absolutely incredible.  Spectacular.  Awesome.  If you’re even a slightly remote fan of beach volleyball (or just like to watch really fit people playing really hard in the middle of a beautiful day) make sure you make it out to the next one of these at Volleyball Beach.  The beer is cold, the crew out there is the best you’ll find anywhere and the action was great.  If you’re not a fan of Volleyball Beach on Facebook make sure you become one; if you are make sure you’re checking the tournaments page of the web site regularly (www.VolleyballBeach.com/tournaments).

As for me I’m going to try and figure out why I don’t play as well as they did – I’m shooting for a spot in the open side of the tournament next year.

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