Friday, November 17, 2017

Senior Volleyball

We sure love volleyball at this house, I tell you. It must have started with a mother who had a long love of the sport, but it didn't take long to spread to the first daughter. This mother took her along to volleyball camps she coached here and there when she was just a tiny thing, and that little girl began bumping volleyballs almost as soon as she could run.

Hallee is 3 years old in this picture. I love it!

By the time this girl was 10, she was ready to start playing competitively, and so her mom became the coach of a 12-u club team, and thus began the beginning of years of hard work, dedication, sacrifice; oh yes, I'm talking blood, sweat and tears. Literally.

The thing is, when you decide you love a sport and that you want to be really good at that sport, you can't just do it half-way. You can't simply be satisfied with mediocracy. You have to give it your best shot. You have to focus, fully engage, and leave it out on the court. Here are a few examples of what I mean. These are some pics I took of Hallee right before the State Volleyball tournament last week. Most of these are weeks old and have had tim to heal. Her body is so beat up, one of her school teachers started worrying about her family life:).

Truthfully, these battle scars don't even begin to tell the story of all this girl has given to this game. The thousands of hours practicing, the extra time at home setting against a wall, the private lessons to improve her weakest part of the game, the numerous camps summer after summer, the endless club tournaments--some throughout the country. After all, we live in an ultra-competitive world, and to be great at something--to even be good enough to be one of the few on the court--you have to put in the work, and Hallee has always been willing to do that. I have admired her determination and focus. And oh, how I have loved watching her play volleyball!

Still, over the years, something inside wondered if we were making the best choices. There were club seasons when Hallee missed months of Young Women activities due to her practice schedule. This was uncomfortable to me. I was grateful she did not practice or play on Sundays, but still, I hated her missing those activities. Then the pressure came to play in out-of-state tournaments on Sundays. At first, she declined and refused to do so. But as she got older and she tried out for better and better teams, the clubs made it clear every athlete on the top teams was expected to play in those tournaments and to play every single day. Although it only happened once or twice a season, I cringed and so did she. Still, we conformed. Finally, when she chose to join a club that seemed to be her best option for leading her to a college scholarship, and this club began to pressure the girls into believing that volleyball should be the most important thing in their lives, we began to see that things were getting out of control. Volleyball was NOT the most important thing in our lives, and we were not willing to make it so. We began to realize we needed to take a stand, that we needed to stop conforming and make better choices, that we needed to have faith in God that things would work out if we put Him and His commandments first.

That's when we moved from Utah to Montana and were suddenly faced with a lot of opportunities to do exactly that. Every club tournament was played on Sunday. Hallee practiced but did not participate in the actual tournaments. For anyone who is involved with sports, you probably realize what a sacrifice this is. Practices are not fun; games are. But it didn't matter. We had a new outlook and were determined to do a better job on focusing on the things that really mattered. Hallee got to play one day, on a Saturday, of a two-day tournament. We made sure we were there to cheer her on!

Moving to a new school your junior year is not recommended for any athlete, and it was definitely a difficult transition for Hallee. She had just earned her spot as starting setter in a huge high school in Utah after working incredibly hard. We showed up the week of try-outs here and the girls on the team were not excited to see her. Neither was the coach. He had been coaching for 30 years and was not very open-minded about change. He had two setters and wasn't about to mix things up, or even give Hallee a chance to prove if she might be better than either of them. She ended up playing right-side hitter her first season here. It was painful. But this girl is a survivor. She is a fighter. She took those lemons she was given and made lemonade, I tell you. She became a really good hitter, and although her coach never allowed her to set, she never gave up hope.

I remember one night she came home so discouraged. We were both crying. Sometimes as a mom you just don't know what to say anymore. There are so many things we can't control. Finally I told her that maybe Heavenly Father had a different plan for her. I knew she had hoped for, planned for, and worked for a college volleyball scholarship her whole life, and it was looking so bleak since she was not being allowed to play the position she was really good at playing and that she was hoping to get a scholarship to play. I told her that God could see a bigger picture, that I knew He loved her more than she could even imagine, and that He would not let her down. We cried together and prayed together. Nothing changed that season.

The coach retired and with that came a renewed hope. The new coach loved Hallee as a setter and could not believe the former coach had not had her setting. Hallee immediately started working hard again during the club season. It was obvious she was a great setter! Maybe she would have her dreams come true after all. She spent the summer at one camp after another, contacted colleges again, and prayed and prayed for inspiration. Her new coach was willing to do everything she could to help her. She believed in her and saw her worth as a player. That's when everything changed.

Hallee and her new coach, Sue Dvorak

I will never forget when Hallee and I were sitting in our van out in front of our house and I asked her if she felt like she had any answers yet. School hadn't started yet, but high school volleyball had. I asked her if she had any promptings about where she was supposed to go, or if she was leaning toward one school or another. There was a long moment of quiet, and I looked at this beautiful daughter of mine and tears were streaming down her face. Now you must realize, Hallee is not a cryer. She has to be deeply touched or hurt very badly for tears to come, so I knew this was a defining moment. I knew something was coming. Both of us were emotional as she told me that she had received an answer, and that she would not be playing college volleyball. She would be going on a mission. My heart was so full I thought I would burst. My first thought was I knew the Lord had different plans for you! I knew you had better things to do! But then I have to admit there was a part of me that mourned the fact that all of the hard work this girl had put in to this sport would end very soon and would not end up helping her get her education like all of us had hoped. I would miss watching her play so much! I realized I had better soak up this senior volleyball season like nothing else!

And so we did. We traveled all over Montana watching Hallee play, and we loved every minute of it. This girl can play volleyball, I tell you! Her team is so much better when she is on the court. It was not been a perfect season for her. She had to share playing time with two other setters, but she did so with perfect grace. Her team ended the regular season undefeated, winning every tournament and every match, hardly even losing a single set. We were all very excited for the State Tournament, but knew we would have to play very well to win. We had an amazing cheering section, as tons of family ended up making the drive to support this girl they all love so much. My heart was so full.
Some parents decorated the bus before the girls left

They go all-out here and the girls got new monogrammed blankets and pillow cases, as well as a goody bag full of treats

My mom was here to see her off

It was cold that day!

There were eight seniors! 

We had the largest cheering section of anyone! Man, family is awesome!

Jasmine is such a doll! She made these signs and she cheered so loudly for Hallee.

I told Nate he needed more enthusiasm:)

In the semi-finals we ended up playing the team that beat us for the state championship last year. Earlier in the season we beat them in a tournament and Hallee had played exceptionally well. She was ready to do so again. But right before the match, she was informed that she would be sitting out and another setter would be playing instead because the middle blocker felt she could hit better from the other setter. The truth is, this middle blocker felt all year that Hallee didn't set her enough. She had something called entitlement and selfishness issues. Unfortunately, the coach listened to her and played the other setter instead. Hallee only subbed in on the front row to hit. And unfortunately, we did not win the match. By the time the coach realized this wasn't working we were about to lose set four. Hallee served us back into the set, and we ended up winning 27-25, but a couple of bad calls at crucial times in game five left us losing. We lost to them again the next day as well. Again, the coach started the other setter the first set. We lost horribly. Hallee played from then on and our team did much better, but we were not at our best and lost in three sets. It was a disappointing conclusion to a great season. But I could not have been prouder of my daughter.

This pictures brings tears to my eyes. It reminds me of when I was in high school and my dad looked at me that way.

These two have been best friends though everything. Everyone needs one of those. Raegan Steiner is a great volleyball player. She is going on to play at Idaho State.

I have never seen a player behave with such poise, such dignity, such grace as Hallee did under such incredibly difficult circumstances. She did not pout, cry, throw a fit or spend time thinking about herself. She simply accepted the situation and did her very best every time she was in the match. It was an incredible thing to see! I have to admit, at one point I had to walk out of the gym and go into a restroom stall and say a prayer that I would feel peace and that I would have the grace and integrity I should have. It was not easy. I could not understand why the coach would cheat my daughter at such a critical time in the tournament. Hallee deserved better. The team deserved better.  Moments like this are not only defining for children but I'm learning they are for us as parents as well. It is not easy seeing our children hurt, cheated or mistreated! Holy smokes, the mama bears in us just want to rear up and make everything right. But you know what? Our kids can handle it. And honestly, in the end, it didn't even matter.

I think of what my sweet daughter has learned through all of the ups and downs of the past eight years of volleyball, and I would never take that away! Sometimes we wonder if sports are worth it. I have never added up the amount of money we've spent on Hallee's volleyball over the years, but I can tell you it's A LOT. Some may look at that and think we are crazy, especially knowing that now she is not even going to use her skills to get a college scholarship. We will not even get a return on all we have invested. Or will we? The truth is, we already have. I don't know any better way to teach her how to overcome major disappointment. How to cheer for others who are playing ahead of her, even when they don't deserve it. How to communicate respectfully and effectively with coaches or other superiors. How to be a true leader on and off a court. How to set effective goals. How to work really hard for something that matters to her. How to be a good winner. How to be a good loser. How to control the things she can control and leave the rest to God. How have a good attitude no matter what! I could go on and on. These are just a few of the lessons Hallee has learned from volleyball.

So, has it been worth it?


And although I will miss watching this girl of mine play this sport we love so much, she is more than ready for new adventures and new learning opportunities. And I can't wait to see what they are!