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This moment had been a dream of mine all season. Once the coach told me that I would be playing varsity volleyball as a sophomore all I could think about was achieving a win at this new, fast paced level, but things constantly pushed me back.
“Your team sucks,” and “How many games have you won? Ha that’s right none.” These things I heard on a daily basis. Desperately, I wanted to prove them wrong. My thoughts were shattered as the opposing team hit the ball down right to Shannon, our libero, the best passer on the team. She bumped it, a perfect pass right to me. Uh no. It’s my turn. What if I mess up? I could cost us the game. Everyone knows we don’t win, we can’t win…
The repeated bouncing of the bus flying down the highway, the pounding of the bass through my headphones and the unmistakable feeling of nerves mixed with excitement in the pit of my stomach could only mean one thing, Thursday, game day.
We enter the gym as a team, all dressed in the same forest green warm ups. In the gym the black net bordered with white tape stands, perfectly straight across the middle of the glossy tan court outlined with a thick deep blue line. Suddenly I feel a rush as if one hundred butterflies had been released into the pit of my stomach.
I slide out of my green sweatpants with a black stripe down each leg, switch my electric yellow worn practice t-shirt for my long sleeved green and white, number one jersey and pull up my black, frayed, ripped knee pads that reeked of hard work, passion and sweat, but mainly sweat. Then I slip into my jet black Adidas volleyball shoes, strap up my ankle braces and tighten up my hot pink shoelaces. After I pop in my white headphones and tune out to an inspiring song as I do before every game. I can’t sit still. All my emotions brew and I must move around. Stretching, I decide, seems like a smart idea.
Captains gather for the coin toss. They introduce themselves and decide who has the serve. My warm up partner had been chosen as a captain so I grab a ball from the cart and patiently wait for her to be finished. Standing there, ball in hand, mentally preparing myself, I inspect the ball, admiring the feeling of the smooth, white leather in my hands. It fit perfectly between my fingers by no accident.
Our coach, a young, slender guy, dressed up in a white button down shirt and slick black dress pants, runs his fingers through his thick black hair. He stands tall as he encourages us to push ourselves and to have a good warm up. To be both ready to go and intimidating to the other team. We look sharp, we look quick, we look efficient. My excitement, hardly containable, begins to grow. We gather around coach as he discusses our lineup and goals for this match.
“We tend to lose confidence in ourselves so we need to keep it tonight,” Coach Santry informs us. This statement proved all kinds of comments I heard that day. In my head I repeat the hurtful things my peers had said. Why would we want to come watch you guys play. You can’t even win a game. You guys suck. Fortunately my thoughts are cut short when the buzzer screams. The jump worthy sound is our cue. The game is about to begin.
Taking my place at the end line, first in line, facing the opposing team, I examine their bright orange, tight, short sleeve jerseys. They all match with similar navy blue spandex. The same deep color as the non-matching libero jersey. I wonder if they’re good. Are we gonna lose again? The announcer calls my name and pulls me out of my daze and I turn and wave to the crowd. The cheering of friends and family makes my heart pound like a drum. After everyone is introduced both my team and the opposing team wish good luck to each other. The repeated quick, “Good luck” begins to sound like “cluck, cluck” as we shake hands.
As always, I am the first server. It can be a nerve wracking thing but when the referee blows his whistle sharply, almost piercing and signals me to serve, I exhale a large gust of air, tell myself, Confidence is all you need, and with that breath the pressure is gone. I serve a few and we rally it out, intensity with each point. Little beads of sweat begin to form at the top of my forehead along my hairline and my breath quickens. I’m extremely focused; nothing can distract me at this point. My eyes follow the round, white ball through air wherever it goes. Points go back and forth. We unbelievably finish out the first set with a win.
Appleton West had appeared in the second game with fire in their eyes. It began to feel as if someone was trying to take the thing we wanted most and we had to fight for it. We had to fight harder than we ever thought we could. We’re tired? So what? Never can we let another team push harder, cheer louder or get inside our head. Volleyball, very physical but basically a mental game.
We fought through and still came out on top at the end of the second set. There appeared this mirrored fire in my team just as in Appleton West that I’d never seen before. All we need is one more set and we’d win the match. We could actually win a game. We went out and continued to fight but a gust of strength from our opponents blew back at us. When you’re down, physically and mentally, a comeback is usually just a dream for my team in particular.
Unfortunately we lost that set. We didn’t play well in that third game, we lost our fire. Upset over the loss I had to cheer my team up. But thoughts begin to run through my head, your team sucks, you can’t win a game. You can’t do this. You’re just going to lose like you always do. These thoughts were most definitely running through each and every players head. The most important question is are we going to give in again? Are we going to take the easy way out as always and prove everyone right or are we going to fight?
Everyone had to do their part for the good of the team. Being up two sets to one is a great advantage; we have to push enough in this set if we want it. All we need is confidence. The fire and drive began to reappear. My team, ready to play, rallied up the score and we took the lead back. The feeling of being on top was exhilarating, a new feeling that I didn’t want to give away. Finally the point had come, game point, for us.
This had been a dream of mine, to be in this position all season. Here was my chance to make my dream come true. It felt like my hands were having seizures, I didn’t know where all my blood had rushed to and I became very aware of the salty, warm sweat pouring down my back and forehead. The intensity of this last set point, the deciding factor of weather the game was over or not, could be felt throughout the gym. Emotions raised, we had to keep our heads. Adrenaline had kicked in and everyone was giving it their all. No one felt tired because it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that we kept the ball alive on our side of the court. This is our chance, our time. The sweetness of victory began to form within the dryness of my mouth.
We served the ball aggressively over the net. Watching the other team dig the ball and set it up made me almost sick to my stomach. I hoped they would mess up but they didn’t. We had to earn this point if we wanted it bad enough.
This is it. They hit the ball down right to Shannon, our libero, the best passer on the team. She bumped it, a perfect pass right to me. Oh no it’s my turn. What if I mess it up like everyone thinks I will? No, I can do this. I have confidence in myself. It became my turn to do my part for the team and I then transferred the pass into a set to my outside hitter. It all seemed to turn to slow motion as I watch the ball drift from my outstretched hands to my hitter on the opposite side of our court. I did it! I did my part. The ball couldn’t be placed more perfectly. It then travels between the blockers and slams into the shiny brown floor, right in the center, between all the opposing players.
Cheering erupts throughout the gym like lava out of a volcano.
The referee signals us to the end line and we run faster than ever to shake the hands of our opponents. We huddle at the bench and the tears begin to fall from the eyes of the seniors like a heavy rain. Which then, like a yawn, the tears spread like an infectious disease to the rest of us.
Our team had finally done it. We had finally won. Never had I won a game at the varsity level and I could feel my heart about to explode out of my chest. It was no longer butterflies in my stomach, but big, crazy elephants running in circles.
Tonight we played with confidence. Tonight we proved ourselves to those people, and I mean a lot of people, that doubted us. No longer were we that team who couldn’t win. No longer were we the team who “sucks”. It felt so good to squash those rumors. Therefore, if you want something enough you must have confidence in yourself. I did and I learned to ignore the rumors and hurtful comments because no one knows my team like I do.