Yesterday turned out to be the perfect ending for a lot of things.
First off, it was Friday, the end of the week. Who doesn’t love those?
It was also the end of our first quarter; it’s been a scramble for teachers and students to get last minute assignments, corrections, and make-ups in before grades closed.
It was our last school day of October. And it was the day before Halloween so we had some fun festivities during the day to celebrate.
But, above all of these, it was our last JV volleyball game of the year. And not just any volleyball game; it was the championship game for ISAL (Independent Schools Athletic League in NYC). My brain was totally fried from a full week of teaching and coaching, and I couldn’t not think about the game that would take place later in the day.
This was my first year coaching, and I’ve had such a blast. The girls are amazing and my co-coach is great. Plus, I love volleyball and played in middle and high school.
But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cause extra stress. Every day, since we started the season at the end of August, we’ve had either practice or a game. This was really difficult in the beginning when I was using a cane and could only hobble along. Plus, any planning, grading, etc. had to be done during the school day (limited) or after volleyball (late). I’ve spent many nights staying late at school after volleyball because I tend to procrastinate at home.
When we started playing regular season games back in September, the girls did surprisingly well. None of our sports teams are particularly amazing, but we started off winning every game we played. There were multiple “friendly” matches that didn’t count towards our overall league record, but we were even winning those.
We were doing really well!
Going into our last regular season game on October 16, a league game to boot, we were undefeated. And not just undefeated in our league, but undefeated overall, including all friendly matches as well. Any game we played, we had won!
And guess what. We won that last regular season game, too.
This team of girls from an independent school for students with learning differences just went undefeated. Our upper school’s first athletic recognition banner would be a team I helped coach. And a girls‘ team, no less!
Making all the history!
We ended the season on top, number 1 of 5 teams in the league. It’s a small league; there were originally 2 or 3 other schools in the league but they couldn’t recruit enough girls to make teams. But that doesn’t matter because we showed everyone that we’re awesome and could do it. The underdog team came out of nowhere and totally rocked everyone’s socks off.
This past Wednesday was play-off day. We were set to play the #4 team. We told the girls to just play the game they knew how to play, not to be cocky or arrogant just because we had beat this team before and they were in last place. The girls played and they won. And it was awesome.
Which brings us to yesterday. Championship day. I tried my hardest not to overthink it or get too psyched in fear of psyching the girls out. Our subway ride up to 110th Street on the upper east side was not focused on the game or even volleyball; it was just the typical subway ride where the girls are chatting and laughing and making goofy faces and jokes. It was great.
Until we got to the athletic center and reality started setting in. And then our fan bus full of about 50 students and teachers came waltzing in cheering and chanting and waving green pompoms. I was so grateful that so many people traveled all the way from Brooklyn on a Friday afternoon, but I really didn’t want the girls to start freaking out and focusing more on the crowd than the game.
We reiterated to the girls to focus on the court, not on the bleachers. We told them to breathe and chill out. We told them to play the game they knew how to play.
The other team showed up late and their cheering section was dwarfed compared to ours. It was total insanity, and I loved it. But I was also freaking out. Reports from colleagues in the bleachers told me I looked calm and collected the entire time, which shocks me. I felt like the total opposite. But cool to know I may have a future in professional poker or acting or something.
Let the game begin…
Note: JV volleyball plays the best of 3 sets to 25 points, the winner winning by 2 points.
After some crazy amazing volleys, we lost the first set 24-26. So we weren’t blown away, but the pressure was still on us to win the next two sets.
The gym was so thunderous with cheering that it was obvious the girls had a really hard time hearing each other calling the ball’ we had a couple near collisions. It was also hard for us as coaches to communicate with them to tell them to move up or move back, to give them our usual pointers on bending their knees or positioning their bodies to face the court. I was literally screaming, not just talking loudly like our usual [quieter with a much smaller crowd] games.
It was insane. And stressful. And cool. And oh so stressful.
The second set was another close one with some intense moments, but we ended up pulling out a win with a score of 25-20.
This was it. It all came down to this third set.
Now, obviously you know what the result was based on the title. But humor me for a second and get pumped and nervous and act like you don’t know what the outcome is. Maybe sit on the edge of your seat for added emphasis and drama.
We started the first set amazingly – we were up something like 5-0 in the beginning.
But they caught up to us.
At 13 points, the halfway mark, we would switch sides, as was per usual of a third set.
We reached 13 points first, but they were right on our tail. We switched sides and continued on.
When the score was 17-15, the referees told us our girls were out of rotation; the switch from one side to the other really screwed them up, so two girls had ended up switching positions. The coach on the other team was rallying for us to lose some points because we served out of rotation; this didn’t happen, for whatever reason. Thank all that is holy.
At 24-18, I was ready to throw up. Or poop my pants. Or both. This could be it. Right here.
It was our serve.
We could do this.
Our girl served the ball, the other team went to set up three hits. But on the third hit, the ball ended up hitting the net and dropping on their side.
I was keeping score on a sheet of paper the entire game, so that and the pen flew onto the floor as I sprung out of my seat and ran to the girls on the court. [Side note: My feet have so amazingly healed after my foot surgery almost 3 months ago. I can run now! Woot!!]
My co-coach and I created a huge group hug, all of us jumping up and down, yelling, laughing, and freaking the heck out. The crowd in the stands were going bonkers. Everyone was screaming. It was magical.
We each got medals; I plan to wear mine every day for the rest of my life…or at least until next year. There’s also a plaque and a trophy that will be displayed somewhere in the school.
And, we get two banners – one for the undefeated season and one for winning championships. Like, how amazing?!
The game was incredible and it really was between the best two teams. We both came to win. And it feels so damn good to be the best of the best.
On the fan bus back to Brooklyn, we all sang along to Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” which I’ve been waiting for since we knew we were going to play-offs. Like, how fitting for a Quaker school to sing this song after winning a volleyball championship? It only seems right!
It’s an incredible honor to have been a part of this amazing event in our school’s history. I’m so grateful to everyone who came and supported our team, not just last night but at our other games or by congratulating us at any point throughout the season. It meant the world to the girls and us coaches.
I can’t wait to see what next year’s season brings.
But for now, I’m thinking of all the time I will now have.
To get work done, to workout (finally!!!), to sleep, to relax.
To revel in our victory.