The Way It’s Supposed To End (Almost)

Have you ever watched a movie all the way through only to be disappointed by the ending?  You’re all emotioned-up and then the final scene just sucks everything that was good about it right out of it.  You can’t remember any of the great one-liners, you’ve forgotten the incredible sensuous love scene and the special effects were erased from your mind all because you can’t wrap your head around how horrible the ending was.

This weekend’s Tournament of Champions out at Volleyball Beach (where else?) was not that way.

The tournament represented the last vestige of beach volleyball us Kansas Citian’s get to enjoy for the 2012 season, and the weather late in the week gave all indication that Mother Nature was going to throw us an “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” ending to an otherwise incredible season on the sand.

It was not to be – it turns out Howard called in a few favors and may or may not have sacrificed the prior Wednesday & Thursday nights for what might have been the most beautiful day of the entire year for the finale to the sand volleyball season on Saturday.  69 degrees, slight wind and beautiful, unobstructed sunshine.  Almost a perfect turnout (one team failed to show), and even Tom (the former owner) stopped in from Las Vegas to say hi to all the teams.

Oh – and some awesome volleyball to boot.

I was playing on “Team Katstra” – Amy, Jane, Ashley, Scott, Kyle and me.  We were slated in the Power division (read: A) along with four other teams.  The beauty of that setup was the ability to play all the other teams before rolling into the single-elimination tourney; I know the B-division was split into flights (or whatever the appropriate term for “not all in one” is) and I’d much rather walk in knowing how we fared against the team before.

Our bye was at the end – the perfect place on a beautiful day.  It wasn’t too hot so exhaustion wasn’t a problem; it wasn’t too cold so frozen bones weren’t in play.  Our bye at the end would, in theory, give us 45 minutes to relax in the shade and eat before the single-elimination tournament started.

The first game was quite a challenge – right up against Team Mulvaney (Blake, Katie, Katie, Adam, Laura and Greg) on the orange court.  Not exactly the start to the tournament I was hoping for; I was hoping we’d get a nice gentle start instead of being thrown straight into the mix (note: there were no “gentle starts” to be had anywhere in the Power league, so my hope was pretty naive).  Both teams played pretty solid both games and we started pool play off with a 1-1 split.  Unfortunately like icebergs were to the Titanic and kryptonite to Superman we discovered we had a weakness: 17.  We had a 17-12 lead before losing in the second game; something that was not going to be limited to this match.

Next up we were over on blue against another solid A team.  We had a better start and kept our momentum, skimming by point 17 on to 18 in both games and taking both of them, albeit only by a couple of points each.  But we couldn’t get any rhythm on our side – the other team kept us from getting into the groove and we almost found ourselves stuck and giving it up.

After that we jumped back to Orange to finish up our afternoon with a couple of sets.  The first set we had was against what I’ll call our arch-nemesis – “All That”, also known as Team Steadman.  We’ve met so many times in the finals I’m willing to bet we’re probably the most-played matchup out at Volleyball Beach tournaments.  It’s kind of like that song that you know you’ll hear when you go to a bar – when you go to a beach volleyball tournament you know the chances are you’re going to see a Katstra-Steadman matchup, and probably when it counts.

They were an absolutely solid team – as they always are.  We managed to pull a first game win followed by a second game loss giving us a record of 4-2 going into the last pool play match for us against Aaron and Josh’s team – certainly a veritable challenge.  They were a solid team, but with only five players (missing one girl) and the “ghost rule” (give a point anytime the missing player was up to serve) we were able to pull a 1-1 split with them…although we did get stuck on 17 points again in our loss.

Final tally: five wins, three losses.  In a “normal” tournament I’d tell you that was #3 seed best case, but because we had such an evenly-matched field that was enough for us to squeeze into the #2 seed – right behind two-loss All That.

That put us in to the tournament playing on blue against – drum roll please – Team Mulvaney.  I had a personal score to settle with Blake & Katie for beating my team in the quads tournament (remember this post?) so I was out for revenge (I jest; they were two totally different teams, and besides – I could never have a score to settle with either one of those two peeps).  We warmed back up (which was more difficult than it should have been – I just have to keep reciting “25 forever” to fool myself…) and served it up.

We were definitely in our groove for those games, taking the best-of-three series in two solidly-played games.  It was a hard-fought battle, though; we had a couple of key hits that gave us the edge and moved us into the finals.

Against – you got it – All That.

This matchup was on the orange court and was a fitting way to end the year out at Volleyball Beach.  Two solid competitors facing off against each other.  #1 and #2 seeds battling for bragging rights (and hoodies) until the Spring tourney rolls around.  A dozen familiar players on the sand, ready to decide the champion.

And the final matchup for power teams certainly held true to form.  Team Katstra took the first game in a solid show of awesome playing.  All That took the second game, getting out to an 8-2 lead and taking advantage of our 17 points kryptonite at the end.

It was all knotted up at one game a piece.  We eschewed the “normal” way to decide the match – 15 points – and agreed if we were going to end the year out there we were going to do it with a full game to 21, switching every 7 points (the sun was low enough to be a problem).  Howard noted over the speakers that history was about to be made here and everyone not playing should gather around and watch (not exactly what he said, but we’ll pretend that was close enough).

It was a battle worth watching.

While the final score was 21-18 the game was closer than that.  Save for a 4-point run in the middle we might still have been playing 24 hours after the sand settled on the final power matchup at Volleyball Beach for 2012.  There were awesome digs, perfect passes, mouth-watering sets, earth-shattering spikes and brick-wall blocks.  It was back-and-forth, back-and-forth.  We’d take an advantage; they’d take an advantage.  We’d grab a point or two; they’d grab a point or two.

It was almost everything you could ask for as a beach volleyball player.  The beautiful weather, the top-notch talent on the sand, the leave-it-on-the-court play.  The only thing missing: the (metaphorical) championship trophy for Team Katstra.  We found ourselves on the losing end of the 21-18 score when Rich smashed a picture-perfect set down on the left third of the court at about 15 feet to close the game and give the win to All That.  Despite the hard-fought effort we ended up in second place for the third (I think) time this season.

But win, lose or draw there is no question that Saturday’s tournament is exactly what tournaments are supposed to be like – hard-fought, well-played and friendly…but competitive.  That was the finals matchup.

I’m sad that the beach volleyball season in Kansas City has hit it’s end for 2012, but it (almost) couldn’t have gone out in better fashion.  Here’s to a restful and relaxing off-season (time to heal) and looking forward to what’s bound to be an even better 2013!


(post image courtesy of Jeremy Turlin)

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