By BOB WOOD
With the introduction of a new system of league play, the Hood River and Wy’east middle school volleyball programs were forced to go through somewhat of a shakedown period this season.
In years past, the girls have been split into two teams: one for the more skilled players and one for the players who need a little more direction. However, this was not the case in 2003.
Instead of having two teams with different skill levels, the girls were split into two teams that were intended to be equally matched.
“I liked the new system,” said Panthers eighth grade coach Dave Radley. “It made the girls with better skills work harder, and it made the girls with less skills work even harder than that.”
On the other hand, some coaches disagreed, saying that the new system has done more harm than good.
“It wasn’t to anyone’s advantage,” said Panthers seventh grade coach Stacy Birdsall. “The girls with lower skill levels were intimidated and the girls with higher skill levels were dragged down. It felt more comfortable when we were divided into A and B teams.”
The change in the way the girls were divided up helped facilitate a new form of competition for local middle school sports teams: Tournaments.
The schools competed in one tournament a week for five weeks against The Dalles and Chenowith. Each team played a certain number of games and was then seeded into a pool play bracket by their win-loss record.
“I didn't like the tournaments,” said Birdsall. “There was too much downtime for the girls.”
Whether or not the tournaments were welcomed with open arms, the general consensus seemed to be that all of the girls improved throughout the season.
“My main expectation at the beginning of the season was that at least 90 percent of the girls would feel comfortable serving the ball overhand,” said Wy’east seventh grade coach Susan Smith. “I was also trying to get them to get three hits per side. And by the end of the season, almost all of them had a grasp of those two concepts.”
Rob Johnston, eighth grade coach for Wy’east, saw a similar improvement on his team.
“I was trying to get them away from returning the ball to the other team with only one hit,” he said. “By the end of the season, I didn’t even have to say anything. The girls were telling each other what to do. They put it into practice and realized that is how the game is played.”
All in all, coaches at both local middle schools felt good about their teams’ seasons.
“It was very encouraging,” said Smith. “There are a lot of girls I’d like to see go on (to play high school volleyball). It was a great season and I was lucky and grateful to have such a good team.”