Granddaughter Maddie, 13 and nearly six-feet-tall, was recently tapped to play on a traveling volleyball team. I knew nothing about the sport but, after three days courtside cheering her Seacoast team at a tournament in Boston, I have a few thoughts.
Girls who play volleyball have very very long legs. They wear fanny-hugging skimpy shorts that could double as bikini bottoms. They pull their long hair back into tight ponytails. They sport serious sneakers which none of them would wear downtown with her friends. Competitive? OMG!
Maddie’s “Under-14” Seacoast team, wearing New England Patriots colors, took to the floor at 3 PM last Friday for the opening match of the 2019 Mizumo Boston Volleyball Festival held in the the Convention and Exhibition Center which is, I believe, slightly larger than Rhode Island. Maybe bigger. My Fitbit went into spasms walking to Court 98 for the first of nine games.
Throughout the weekend, every one of the 110 courts featured “balls in the air” from 8 AM to 8 PM as teams across New England vied for the gold. I quickly learned that volleyball matches consist of two sets. The winner must score 25 points by two, twice. If they split sets, the third game winner must score 15 points by two. The length of matches varies. Players could be on the court anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes.
They could definitely play in HALF that time were it not for the ritual of hugging and slapping five after each and every point. A serve goes into the net, the team gathers and hugs. A center spikes a ball and wins the point, the girls run together and cheer — even if the point was not in their favor.
When they stride onto the court, the six girls on each side act like typical teenagers. They giggle, they adjust the ponytail, they tug down the micro-shorts, they high five, they low five, they chomp on a cuticle, they low five again. When the ref blows the whistle indicating “serve,” every girl turns into Misty May-Treanor. Knees bent, arms high, eyes focused, swoosh, slap, spike, point won. Hug!
Between games the Seacoast girls refereed other matches as linesmen, or nibbled on salads and stretched. Some did jumping jacks in a hallway and bounced balls against the wall. And they whispered nonstop about SMASH. “We play them next,” one girl said. “We’re cooked!” her friend answered.
No matter what the sport, there’s invariably a team that “wins” early by sheer reputation. Such are the SMASH volleyball teams from Massachusetts. These highly-competitive teams practice at least three times a week, are rarely beaten, and the per-player cost to the parents for coaches, travel and equipment can run from $2000 to $5000. Serious stuff.
Seacoast met a SMASH team on Saturday afternoon. The game was, uh, brief. But the hugs and high fives never ceased. Nor did their unconquerable spirit when Seacoast played three hours later and, whoa!, beat a different SMASH team.
When I became a grandmother, I never realized how much fun I’d have “down the road” when they took up basketball, tennis, golf or soccer — and now volleyball. I’m a fan. I’m not sure who the guy below is but I know this: he’s a fan too.