Volleyball has come and gone. It didn’t seem like it was too long ago when I was stressing out each night in my barracks room about being cut from the team due to my poor camp performance. With about 10 days left in the camp I found myself on the starting team, and was getting increasingly comfortable with our setter. My progress however was painfully slow. It seemed that every time I would dust off an old cobweb, I would uncover another. By the time we arrived in North Carolina for the Armed Forces Tournament I was feeling a tad more confident.
Our first match was against the Marines. I was quickly reminded how fickle sports could be. Physically we were prepared, but mentally we were all somewhere else. I don’t really know how to describe it. It was if hold music was playing in our heads. Some of us, myself included, had deer in headlights looks the entire match. We lined up on the court with our 6 starters, me playing OH, and in a blink of an eye we lost the first game 25-17. The next two games followed suit. This was one of those matches that went by so fast that we didn’t even have time to adjust. Instead of seeing the entire game from a bird’s eye view, each of us seemed focused at a micro level on a few individual things. We weren’t really outclassed; we just mentally took a crap. Not having a coach there hurt us a lot. Worse still we faced the problem that would haunt us for the rest of the tournament, finding an emotional floor leader.
Our veteran player John arranged to have the girls coach act as our head coach while we were playing. The next match against the Air force went a little better, but again, we lost in 3 games. Each subsequent match got a little closer and a little better until we finally beat the Army in our 5th match. By then it was too little too late. I was reminded
138139 times by our coach and various female Navy players that I needed to get excited and pumped up after each point despite the outcome of the point. I suppose I used to be an excitable guy however long ago. When it comes to volleyball, I just like to play. I think the only time I can “ManRa” as they call it, is when the other team is talking trash, or when they are a bunch of @$$holes. Each branch was pretty cool to us, so I just did my thing, smiled and prepared for the next point, to the dismay of many of our girls. Since I am a huge San Antonio Spurs fan (25 years strong) I might attempt to blame my new-found stoicism on Tim Duncan. Yeah … I think that’s what I will do.
Apparently several other members of our team had also been counseled. Some of the Navy girl’s parents who were watching asked them if we (the guy’s team) even liked playing. It was a very weird situation. We all knew how to play, but no one could really bring the ManRa. It wasn’t that we were playing bad, but that we weren’t a bunch of cheerleaders. The two games that we did get emotionally involved in we kicked ass. All 6 starters interacted at on even keel, taking turns attempting non-chalantly to motivate the team. I spent many nights analyzing the matches in an attempt to figure out what I could do (sigh *mentally*) to help.
Physically, my play was on and off. I had a bad first match against the Marines, a descent second match against the Air Force where I logged 15-19 on kills, and a bad third match against the Army, when I decided passing was not very important to win. My last 3 matches where we played each branch again were a bit more consistent. I typically got about 15 kills, and passed at or around a 2.1, whereas in the first three games, I would either pass perfect, or horrendous. After about the 3rd match I spoke to our setter Aaron about running 32s on the outside when I was in transition. We did it by chance and quickly noticed that the other branches had a very hard time dealing with the quick inside sets when our middle was also going for a well-passed quick. I believe we even had two matches were I was perfect from 32s hitting 10+. It was funny watching each team we faced adjust to it by stacking their setter or opposite way inside. Due to my shoulder being all jacked up, I still had tons of angle hitting room. Eventually they stacked so far inside on the last match that I had about half the court to turn to when swinging line. That, and sporadic good digging, were my only real successes. Despite everything, two other Navy guys (our Opposite Carlon, and setter Aaron) and I were selected to represent the Navy in the CISM world games (*read below for how that went comically wrong*).
It took me a while to warm up to all the Navy guys, but I already miss them. We had a very cool team. Everyone was easy to get along with. I am slated to be out of the service soon, and have been researching reserve jobs. Personally, I would prefer to join the Air Force Reserves. Knowing that if I did, I would never play with any of the guys again, I have since swayed toward joining the Coast Guard. If I am lucky enough, I will line up again with many of the same guys as a Coast Guard reservist and offer a little payback to the other branches.
The Navy Strikes Again
As I write this, I have an 8 week old travel claim that has not been paid, an 8 week old Tuition Assistance Request that has not been approved, and my ship is forcing me to take an early out by threatening to blow off navadmin 273/06 and deploy me despite the fact that I have not been back from Afghanistan for 6 months. I also received a sub-par eval while I was in Afghanistan (a 3.1) despite earning a Meritorious Service Medal, which by the way is about the highest medal any of our 300 crew members CO included, have received themselves. I should also mention that it is taking an act of God to get any progress on resolving my ankle issue. Apparently the GOOD medical care is reserved for the military members dependents, as they are the only ones that get to see real doctors. We get the expertise of quacks that may have an associates, score in the middle range of the ASVAB, and who like to use silver nitrate incorrectly to cauterize a toenail (future story). All that being said, my dealing with the organization or lack thereof of the sports office took the cake.
I first need to mention that everyone I spoke to was very nice, and that they all attempted to be helpful. In fact, I am not quite sure why it is all broken. We weren’t even told that camp was postponed. We each had to call and find out. We also did not receive valuable information, including what we need to bring and have done prior to arriving to camp, until about a day before we left. Needless to say that most of our team arrived to Jacksonville unprepared. Ironically the three guys that would end up being selected for the CISM team after the tournament (Carlon, Aaron, and I) all took it upon ourselves in camp to fight tooth and nail to ensure that we got our passports in time, (one of the things that was not passed down to us). We each filled out all the form, got everything signed, and went out of our way to rectify that situation.
It was a month or so later, at the All-Armed Services Tournament, where we (three of us) anxiously sat awaiting our names to be called to the CISM team that we learned of our Shakespearian fate. We were each told under the table to make preparations to travel to Rio De Janero for a month. So when the last name was called, and all three of us were still sitting, it was quite a punch in the stomach. Afterward, the Navy Sports Representative informed me that I had been selected, but that our passports had not come in yet, and that they would not take any of us. I cannot tell you the last time the Navy did not send anyone to represent men’s volleyball. All I know is that we each moped back to our barracks and sat around feeling kind of shell-shocked. The morning rolled around soon enough, and as we were boarding the plane, we were each presented with one last little kick in the groin when we simultaneously received text messages indicating that our passports had arrived. ARRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG! The US team placed ninth and even won a match against Venezuela. I frequently checked up on them, and felt sick with envy daily. None-the-less I should be thankful I played at all. I could have spent the time on the ship.