Back in November, these four brave kids did try-outs for club volleyball. Our local league is called "Webfoot" - and it is a very established and well respected program that many families that we know have had their kids compete in all through high school. Honestly, I was surprised Mikayla was willing to step up to do something that demands so much of her time and definitely steps up the intensity - especially when initially, we weren't even sure if she'd know any of other friends participating.
From left to right in this picture are Natalie, Noah, Mikayla, and Grace. Natalie and Grace both attended Mikayla's birthday party (proving they are among her favorite people) and Noah is our neighbor - part of a family that we are so thankful live only two houses down from us. All of them played Kidsports volleyball this year as well on our teams.
It was a HUGE praise that they all ended up on the same team of nine players together. They are playing on 12 Green (meaning the kids on the team had to be 12 or under at the time of try-outs). Mikayla JUST turned 11, so obviously, she is one of the younger ones - in fact, I think these four are the only fifth graders of the bunch with the other five girls are 6th graders on their team.
It was quite a family decision to determine if this would be a good fit for our family, as there are traveling tournaments on two weekend days every month. This month (when tournaments began), the competitions happened two weekends in a row. Last weekend, (when these pictures were taken), we were up in Portland area on Sunday for about 9 hours - and yesterday we were in the tournament facility in Salem for 11.25 hours! They have to show up around 7am at each tournament, so it will probably lead to some hotel stays (as it did last weekend), dependent on the location. That's a fun perk...we Rileys definitely like our Fairfield Inns with their indoor pools, cozy rooms, and Belgian Waffle continental breakfasts! =)
Ultimately, we concluded that January through May is a very "dead" time for us and therefore a perfect fit to the Webfoot season. As volleyball is the only sport Mikayla has chosen to pursue - and is taking her own active motivation and dedication to improving and playing, we want to support her to get better and have opportunities to play. It's timing is fortunately NOT in contrast to the one sport Brayden loves, which is football - though he is hoping to pick up some time on the field this spring by finding a flag football team to play on.
I went in very apprehensive - very nervous about the intensity and placement on teams, the craziness of tournaments, a fear of having to spend so much time making small talk with parents, etc. However, all of it has turned out way better than I anticipated. Mikayla's team is comprised of 9 very similarly-talented kids. Each have particular strengths to offer, and no one player is "perfect". I like almost all of them a lot - and even the one that we anticipated being more of a "struggle" based on attitude is going smoother than I thought. Their coach (shown a little blurred in a light green shirt with blonde hair) is super sweet and enthusiastic. She's a very good match for Mikayla for her first year, as she's not at all intimidating.
It's hard to remember that this is the same girl who could barely underhand serve a ball over the net that was well over a foot lower and probably 15 feet closer to where she's playing now back in 3rd grade. She's improved so much - even in the few weeks of practice since she played on the Kidsports team that I helped coach. She's now able to overhand serve the ball successfully over the net (at full womens' high school court/net size) more often than not....and for the record, yes, she is the smallest girl on the team. (One of the other moms that I met last weekend said to her husband while seated next to me after watching Mikayla, "I just want to scoop her up and eat her with a spoon". - Okay, that's a little weird, but endearing nonetheless!)
While her serving is improving with each game (she tries so hard), her biggest asset to the team is her passing. I think she'll eventually end up being a "libero" - which means she'll be the back row specialist and primary person to take serve receive. I don't think she's all that hip on that idea right now as she doesn't want to be limited from doing anything else, but given her size and general consistency of getting the first pass back up in the air for the setter to set - I suspect that may be in her future.
The team has this fun thing they do when someone gets a serve over with a return. They chant "A" "C" "E" as they touch their ankles, hips, and shoulders and then yell "ACE" in the air with their arms extended. In the last game we played, Grace was on a run of (very important) ace serves, so they altered the final word to be "Grace" instead of "Ace". Cute, and it made Grace feel loved!
Last year's "12 Green" team only won one match the whole season. It included a few kids who didn't try and made life hard for those who did. I'm so thankful this is not the case for our team. Due to that team's success, our ranking began at 32 out of 53 teams. We've played teams already ranked at #1 and actually gave them a run for their money...which is very encouraging. While we've lost more than we've won so far, we have seen a few wins - one in which was pivotal in moving us up to #25 in rankings. I suspect this team, as they grow together and gain confidence will only continue to move up. =)
Both of the girls seated around Mikayla (Haley to the left, Sophie next to Mikayla) were girls she only met in mid-December. I'm so proud and pleased that she's as happy as she is with these gals and able to establish the friendships so fast. Sophie especially loves her....she seems to like the fact that she's so little and frequently smiling. I sure hope that smile continues through May....so far, so good!