Winner winner chicken dinner!

I love beach volleyball.

Sure, everyone who knows me is probably rolling their eyes right now, mumbling some sort of “seriously? you’re going down THAT road again?” commentary.  But I do love it – there are very few things in this world that I’d rather be doing on a Saturday afternoon than playing volleyball in the sand under a beautiful blue sky and a warm summer sun.

This weekend was no exception and thankfully out at Volleyball Beach (my home away from home) there are tournaments almost every weekend out there from late June through September (here’s the calendar).  This weekend was one of my favorites – the Rose Brooks tourney in memory of Jennifer Burton.

I never knew Jennifer, but if you set one foot inside The Beach during this tournament you will quickly feel how many people’s lives she touched.  There were easily 300 people out there for this tournament – there were 41 teams registered (at least six on a team), plus all the volunteers and other people who came to watch and support a great cause.  Todd and Sonya do an absolutely spectacular job of putting this event together and keeping it running, and of course with Katie² and Heidi behind the bar and Howard running the desk you know things are smooth on that end, as well.  Last year $17k was raised; this year we were determined to beat it.

The Sandy Six Nines won the tournament last year with a team of Kendra, Matt, Cynthia, Jennifer, Jared and I (remember this post?) and we earmarked this tournament early in the year to make sure we regrouped and gave it another run.  Unfortunately we lost Jen and Matt this year for various events, but we did pick up Lauren and Gabe – who cut their honeymoon short to come play with us – who also happened to be on the team that won this tournament two years ago.  So we had a team comprised of the last two year’s worth of champions, and we were determined to do it again.

Because of my brain hiccup (I actually technically registered two days before the tournament…oops – and thank you Sonya & Todd for sliding us in the pool) we were in the rec bracket – the competitive bracket was already filled and set.  But it was OK – the primary key for us was playing; where we played was secondary.

We played OK in pool play – five matches (after a first match bye) on white, gray and north deck.  Two games to 15, win by two, no cap.  We didn’t play spectacular but we played well enough to win consistently, leaving pool play with a 9-1 record and a bye for the first round of the single-elimination tournament (and our only loss was 18-16, playing facing the bright, shining sun on north deck).  But most importantly we got our team dynamics down; while a couple of us play together regularly we’d never all played together as a team, and that can be a huge impediment to success.

We took a nice break on the deck and relaxed with some food, learned a few life lessons and waited to figure out where we’d play.  We moved on out to the red court after our break to get our game on, ready to run through the tournament bracket and bring home the trophy.

Given that we were in the top eight of the 32 teams that made it (I’d guess we were in the top two or three by record) we assumed we’d be playing a seed in the 20s or 30s when we played.  Not so much – the team we were up against also had a bye for the first round, meaning their record was roughly the same as ours.  Not good, especially considering I’d lost my ball somewhere between our last match and thus we had very little warm-up after sitting for an hour.

It was a rough start but thankfully between Cynthia’s serving (which was on – for context she served 22 of the first 30 points we scored and that was before she really got warmed up), Kendra and Lauren’s setting, Gabe’s placement and Jared’s ability to seemingly hover in the air covering the entire net we managed to get settled down…until they announced the winner of the 50/50 raffle (you buy a raffle ticket for $1 and the winning ticket gets 50% of the total pot with the rest going to Rose Brooks).

Let me take an aside here and tell you a little about our team mascot.  Sammy is at pretty much every tournament I play in – so much that everybody there knows him (I’m not kidding – ask anyone who regularly plays out at Volleyball Beach on Sundays, Tuesdays or Thursdays who “Sammy” is and they’ll almost certainly know).  Saturday, however, he wasn’t sure he wanted to go.  And by “not sure” I mean he started crying when I told him it was time to go.  But he understands his attendance is not optional and so he dutifully got in the car.  After a little discussion about his alternatives (he wanted to play Minecraft and clean instead…seriously?) we settled on a compromise – he would stay until 5 and if he wasn’t having a good time I’d call his mom to come get him.  I knew once he got to The Beach he’d be fine; he always is.  Sure enough, we stepped through the doors and he was his normal self.

After getting the team registered I bought some raffle tickets and Sammy decided he needed some, as well.  Since his birthday was a couple of weeks ago he had a little cash burning a hole in his pocket so he decided to make an investment (?) in the 50/50 raffle, dropping $10, then $2, then another $1.  And somewhere along the line someone gave him another ticket, so he had 14 tickets in his hand.  And he was determined he was going to win it.  To the point that I’m walking around taking pictures of the various games going on during our first-match bye and he’s telling me he’s going to buy a bike with his winnings, and he’d even buy me a 10-pack of 5-hour energy.

If you know me you know I’m a fan of practical experience being the best teacher.  I’m not a good book teacher; I’d much rather teach them how to rebuild a carburetor or program a web site or walk up to random people and strike up a conversation.  I don’t coddle my kids, and while I might temper some of the lessons they get from life somewhat for the most part I prefer to let them learn the hard way because those lessons you learn seem to be the best ones.  Left your bike behind my car and it got ran over (happened yesterday, incidentally)?  Bummer; looks like you’re not riding a bike until you find the money to repair it.  Busted a hole in my wall?  That’s unfortunate; that money you were saving for that XBox is now mine for repairs.  Run into a pole?  Don’t do that.  So when Sammy told me he spent the rest of his birthday money on the 50/50 raffle that was one of those life lessons he was going to have to learn – you don’t always win.  I could have reimbursed him for the tickets to make him feel less sad, but that wasn’t going to drive home the point quite the same.  When you do a raffle you need to be in full support of the cause you’re donating to and do it for that reason because the chances are you’re not going to win.  Do it to support.

So I was fully prepared to have that talk with him…until they call out “Sam” as the winner of the 50/50 raffle.  I just sat down on the court and put my head in my hands, shaking it.  I figured it was possible there was another Sam that entered…but when Sonya said “Sam said he’s going to buy a bike” I knew there was only one…my 8 year-old.

Anyway, whether it was hearing our mascot win the raffle or the fact that we were just sick of not playing up to our potential we turned it on.  Across the board our game stepped up – every aspect of our game got better.  To the point that we rolled through the next three rounds of the tournament, winning all of them with 21 while letting our opponents score no more than 13 points in any of those games.

That put us on white court for the best-of-three finals.  The power division finished their final match before we started – congratulations to Scott, Amy, Jane, Kyle, Amanda and Chad – so they watched us (besides, we told them we needed a head-to-head matchup if we won).  We didn’t recognize the team we were playing nor did we get any insight into what to expect.  Unfortunately that didn’t serve us very well, and we found ourselves down 6-1 before we knew it.  We traded points back and forth and slowly made inroads until we were down 17-20.  After some spectacular saves and some great hits we got the ball back and tied it up with the score 22-21 us.  All we needed was one point and we’d take game one.  I was itching to swing; the team we played was really good and had a nasty habit of getting to most of what we put back over the net and I wanted to actually get a hit down.  We served, they returned it and I had my chance.  Cynthia gave me an absolutely perfect set a couple of feet in from the left side a few feet off and I jumped and swung.  I didn’t hit the ball in front of the 10-foot line like I was intending but it didn’t matter – it was probably my best hit of the day and it resulted in a point for us – and a first game victory.

The second game wasn’t quite as nail-biting; we ended up winning 21-16 I think, giving us our second championship trophy in a row.

After getting a team picture we did our pick-up game against Amy’s team – that was an absolute blast (usually I’m playing with them, not against them).  We finished off the volleyball night with a shot and called it a night.

Kudos to the Sandy Six Nines for an awesome tournament, to Amy’s team for their trophy, to our cheerleading team for keeping us motivated and entertained and to Sammy for winning the 50/50.  And, most importantly, to Sonya, Todd and crew for raising $20k for Rose Brooks.  Truly a spectacular result for a great tournament!

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