President’s Day was this weekend and that meant it was time for the Nike President’s Day Classic. At the former home of the St. Louis Rams (still sad) our girls played in a stacked 17 Open division. Our goal was to compete every game and give it our all and for the most part we did. Our girls still struggle with “the big moment” and this weekend was full of them. The ability to perform in a tense situation with a lot of people watching against a tough team is difficult. It is not something we can do in practice so anytime we can do so at a tournament is a positive. A stressful and anxious weekend for all parties lead to some wins, some losses, and a lot of things we learned about ourselves.

We started our pool play against Memphis Metro, a rematch of the Memphis Classic championship game. Our girls did not play well against this team last time we met. With several H2 teams watching as well as Memphis families, our girls could not find a rhythm. This weekend had the same result but a different feel. We pushed the first set to 19-19 and fought our way back in the second to keep both sets competitive. We did not win but we proved to ourselves that the game in Memphis was a fluke and we were good enough to compete with them.

We kept up our solid play our next set as we played Elevation, the number one team in the tournament. We came out and took the first set from them but ended up losing in three. We felt like we could have won but a few plays here and there kept us away from a victory.

This was the theme of the weekend, not being able to finish games that we have the lead in. This was proved in the next two matches. We were ahead against Milwaukee Sting 23-18 in the first set but could not find a way to get two more points. We then lost the set 26-24, 25-19. However, our girls did show some heart in the second set. We could not start at all and trailed 4-14 before using our last time out. Our girls worked all the way back to a six-point difference but walked away knowing they could have won.

Up next was a rematch against Rockwood Mizuno, who honestly embarrassed us in Gateway League. We played scared and could not do any of our fundamentals in our previous matchup. Our girls learned from their mistakes and played the game of the year so far. We lost the first set due to a few runs where Rockwood was connecting with balls. We were even with them at 11-11 but forgot our basics the rest of the set. We lost the first 18-25 but our spirit was not broken. Overhearing the girls talk after the switch made coaches very happy. They knew they could play with them and that was a big difference between this match and the match two weeks ago. Every girl was positive and knew we had it in us to win. We had a big lead and never looked back the second set, winning 25-20. The third set we started out strong and put Rockwood on their heels. We lead 8-4 then 12-8 before we got stuck. A good server brought Rockwood back into the game. We went point for point from there: 13-13, 15-15 then 16-17. We were facing match point against us when a rough call happened against us and the ref handed the point to Rockwood. Even the Mizuno coach came up to me and said they shouldn’t have called it because of the situation. The ref called a double hit on our setter on what appeared by most to be a clean attack. It was a disappointing way to end the game for all. But there’s a lot of good in this match. Mizuno is a top team in the area and ended up finishing third in the tournament and we had them on the ropes.

We picked up our first win the next match against Academy in three before a crossover match against Illinois High Performance. We had beaten them the first weekend of the year and they came out looking for revenge. We could not do anything the first set losing 17-25 but we battled in the second. We ended up losing 25-27 but we fought hard.

After the loss, we were placed into the bottom of the barrel in copper. Even in copper, coaches were proud of our efforts on Monday. It is hard to be motivated to play in the lowest division but our girls came out and played some of their best volleyball of the year. We beat MJVA 25-23, 25-16 then Academy again 25-13, 25-20.

Finishing 16 th out of 18 teams was obviously not our goal but we had some amazing moments this weekend that we plan on building on. We were competitive in every game and proved we can compete with open level teams. The most exciting news came away from the courts as we had our first college offers this weekend! Rachel Verdun and Ellie Stone were both offered from Parkland College, an exception junior college. We had several coaches talking to us about girls and it is exciting to see the interest in our players. Congrats to Rachel and Ellie and we are excited to see more offers come in for everyone!

We have the weekend off before heading to TESL for our last tournament before qualifiers. Things are looking up again for 17 UA!