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The Final Serve
We were the last two in the locker room, the captains ready to fight. Carolann was finishing up with her hair. Swish went her long blond highlights in to the pony tail holder, you could see the small sparkles of our ribbons shine against the light. “Are you ready?” she asked in a nervous way, I took a deep breath and replied “Let's go.” With a stare only a captain can give, we quietly walked out of the bathroom with occasional glances at each other.
As we walked out, we could hear St. Martins team practicing, smacking the volley ball against the court at the precise spot, every time. Were these girls robots? Our starting six players stared in amazement. I could hear the girls mumble to themselves as they looked at St.Martians in a hypnotized way.
I snapped them out of it.
“Ladies, I know they're good, but so are we, now let’s not worry about them and just practice bumping.” The truth was that I thought my heart was going to pop out of my chest. The St. Martins girls volleyball team was undefeated! My mind was racing, I couldn't concentrate, this was the first time that I was truly nervous about a volley ball game.
As time went on I managed to calm myself down a bit; well enough to make me look like I had my head on straight. Every time someone asked me if I was nervous I would just shake my head in a casual way, but truly I thought that I was going to explode! Soon the referee call captains, Carolann and I walked up with Coach to introduced ourselves, as usual. The referee went on about the rules that we all new. I had heard this so many times that I had it memorized. Carolann bumped me with her elbow bringing me back to earth.
“Who will be your speaking captain?” asked the ref. I raised my hand. You could see the shimmer of sweat from the reflection of the light. I quickly pulled my hand down and wiped it on my shorts. Coach gave me a reassuring wink, I smiled back. The ref showed me the coin, one side heads and one side tails, same as always. “I will flip the coin and I would like you to call it in the air.” I nodded. Ting went the coin hitting the man’s finger. I yelled
“Tails!” Before I could even get the slightest glimpse of the coin, he covered it with his large fingers. I almost yelled at him to let it go, it felt like a century before finally I could see his hand moving away from the coin. My heart pounding faster that the speed of light. I squinted trying to see between his fingers finally he took his hand off, thank goodness it was tails! I felt as though the world had been lifted off of my back. I told the ref that we would like to serve first. He asked us to go back to our sides and said that the game would start in about ten minutes. 'Ten minutes,' were the only words that stuck with me out of that entire scene. 'Ten minutes' to start the game, 'ten minutes' until we find out if we go on to the championships, 'ten minutes' until my last Gladiator volleyball game.
That was when Ms.Moenter pulled me aside and stated,
“Don't be nervous, you'll do fine.”
My only reply was “Okay”, I went back to practice serving. Our team did some drills and we were told our positions. When the timer went off I was ready to play. Coach called us back to our corner. “Okay girls, this is it, I believe that you all will play your hardest and do your best out there!”
As we walked out to shake hands and say good luck I felt so small, the roar of the crowd over powered all of us. With every glance of the St. Martins girls, and every smiling face, I felt there was a hidden thought that screamed 'We are going to win!' This thought buzzed around my mind like distant echo that pushed me to the bottom. Then I remembered what Ms.Moenter told me, only this time I couldn't gain control!
The ref blew his whistle as a sign that it was okay to serve. Carolann bounced the ball a few times, lined up her shot and smack! As the ball went over the net it sounded like a million guns being shot at one time. You could here the voices of the St. Martins girls yelling 'bump, set, spike!' I didn't have time to think about anything. The ball was heading for the ground, I yelled at the top of my lungs, “ I got it!”, the other girls quickly moved out of the way. I slid on my hip, just barley missing the ball.
“It's okay, just shake it off.” Carolann reassured. I nodded, it was their serve. I could see the fear in this girls eyes, she was scared of messing up. I glared at her in an intimidating way. As the ball was thrown up in the air I glared even harder, she swung but missed. It was my serve, so quickly I threw the ball up and swung. There were so many thoughts going through my head, so many voices, so many promises about the game that I couldn't keep. That was it, I swung and missed. I thought to myself, how could I have missed that serve I had given the ball away when it was practically handed to us! St. Martins had all of the serves the rest of that first game.
We switched sides, I could see the anticipation in Coach's face. This look only made the matter worse.
“Okay girls we can get it back, I know that they are good but we can do it, come on ladies, we have made it this far. So let's finish it, right here, right now. “What do we have Miss White?” Coach asked.
“ Lady Gladiators!” I replied. We went back out onto the court. These girls were not holding back, but nether were we. The first serve came flying over, smack onto the hard gym floor. All we could do was stare in amazement.
Carolann yelled, “Let's go Gladiators, she has a good serve, but I know that we can break it!” We all got down, the ball was heading straight for Olivia. She carefully hit the ball up as high as she could for someone to set it, Carolann stepped in and tipped it over the net. With a loud cheer from the crowd, the ball was passed to me, once again it was my turn to serve. I knew that I couldn't mess this one up, if I did, St. Martins would be too far ahead and we wouldn't stand a chance. I looked over at Ms.Moenter, she gently nodded her head. We both knew that I was perfectly capable of getting this ball over the net.
I bounced it a few times and threw it up. What a terrible toss it was, but at this point there was nothing I could do about it, so I swung. At first it looked as if it was going over but suddenly it stopped. St. Martians was only four points away from moving on to the final three. At that moment I looked over at their side and chills ran down my back, it was their best server. Our entire team glared at them in anger and frustration.
At game point, Coach called time out. He told us that as long as we work together as a team for that last serve, he would be proud of us for doing our best and making it this far. At that moment we all relaxed and just did what we could. We walked back on to the court. All we could do was smile at each other with sadness in our faces. The whole team knew that this would be our last game of the season. Carolann and I knew that this would be our last game ever at our high school, our last game as captains, and our last game as Gladiators.
With one last 'smack' the game was over. The devastation on our faces was clear. Our eyes filled with tears as the Gladiators huddled one last time. I couldn't hold it in any longer, sadness overwhelmed me, and I began to cry. Coach congratulated us for all of our hard work and dedication to the team.
“I am very proud of you girls, it is amazing that you all have made it this far. I will never forget this game. We have to tip our hat to them because they are a skilled team, but no one is better that you girls, you are a great team and I am very proud of you. Ladies, what do we have?”
We looked at each other in a way only a captain and a friend could and we both said, for the last time “Lady Gladiators!”
At that moment all of our fans came out on to the court. The teachers gave us all hug's telling us that we had an amazing season, the fifth graders were there with their faces painted, and little pom poms in their hands, the boys telling us that we were diving machines, and the parents telling their children how great they were. At that moment there was a feeling of pride and joy within me. The feeling of accomplishment between team mates and the feeling of pride within ourselves, that we had gotten this far. The real bond, though, was with the 8th grade captains, Olivia, Kennedy, MaryClare, Madeline, Carolann and me. This was our final game. This was the last time we would be together as a volleyball family, and the last time to be Gladiators, something that we all loved and cared about.
We were the leaders of the team that year. We got to watch all of the past “A Teams” grow as a team when we were younger, and at that game we filled some pretty big shoes. We all gathered alone talking about what an amazing job we did, and how much we were going to miss doing this next year. Tears rolled down all of our faces, but we didn't care. We stood silently in St. Martins gym for a long time.
I interrupted the silence “I never thought about how much I'm going to miss all of this when I leave next year.”
Carolann replied, “Me too, I never wanted this season to be over, I love doing all of this!” The other girls nodded in agreement. It was our last game and we couldn’t change that. Our rival gym was engulfed with Gladiator spirit, and the tears we shed from that last game. It was now time for the 8th grade to allow the 7th grade to be the leaders and captains. I hope we taught them well, and showed them how to be good captains. We did this the only way we knew how, the Gladiator way. We left a trail of hard work, perseverance, and leadership. We left stories of our mistakes and victories, but most importantly we left a trail of strong Gladiator spirit that will never be broken! That was our final time, our final game, and our final serve.