Northern California boys volleyball: a lost cause?

When I think of U.S. men’s volleyball, thoughts of 1984 and 1988 Olympic gold medals come to mind. U.S. men also took bronze at Barcelona in 1992. But to look at boys high school volleyball nowadays, the successes of the past seem only an aberration. How was it all possible? Yes, many of the high school kids are very serious about the sport, though many schools seem to have “athletes” that turn up after the winter sports seasons. A lot of these guys seem to have little knowledge of the game, and appear to just be filling time until their main sport starts again. Also, the uniforms that players wear at many schools look like their big brothers’ hand-me-downs. In contrast, most girls teams appear more sharply outfitted in the fall. Though this might sound superficial to some, it gives an indication that somebody cares.
Back to the guys, coaches tell me that high school boys volleyball is big in Southern California. And a check of the Olympic rosters would bear this out – – the medal-winning U.S. men’s Olympic teams of the past, for instance, had a strong SoCal influence. Of course, the weather in that part of the state generally is fairer and warmer throughout most of the year, and many folks hone their skills at the beach. The same holds true for places like Brazil and Hawaii, where both forms of volleyball – – beach and court — are strong. Still, places like China, Japan, the former Soviet bloc and a number of nations of Western Europe also have shown their mettle indoors.
Volleyball is a U.S. invention, exported to the world reportedly by American GIs during the world wars and periods of occupation. But like the “British Invasion” of rock-and-roll music, volleyball needed folks from other places to bring it back to our shores.
Men’s volleyball at its best is Karch Kiraly, Craig Buck, Pat Powers and Steve Timmons. “Sideout,” a 1990 film with actor Peter Horton as an aging volleyball stud who proves he still has game, is a neat, though obscure, sports movie usually reserved, unfortunately, for late-night TV. But the enthusiasm of Hollywood and the success of the men’s national team team in past years seems to not have captured the imagination of the entire nation. Seems like high-quality high school boys volleyball exists somewhere, but you’ll have to drive a ways to find it.
While we’re on the subject of volleyball, riddle me this. Girls volleyball, in contrast to the boys, is huge stuff in these parts. High schools have a state championship and club ball thrives. Despite all this, the U.S. women’s medal take in the Olympics consists of a silver in 1984 and a bronze in 1992. Some things in sports just don’t make sense.

— Mike McGreehan


EBAL softball

Well, if you happened to check out the East Bay softball poll today, you probably noticed that six East Bay Athletic League teams are in the top 10. That’s pretty much how I thought it would shake out.

With that many good teams, you can probably guess how tough the EBAL will be this season. There are no games where coaches can start backups just to get them some experience. Those experiments will have to wait, cause pretty much every game is going to be brutal. The league champion could wind up with two or three losses.

With that in mind, here’s my prediction for how the league standings will look when the season ends.

Foothill (10-2)
That Falcons have experienced players in just about every position, and that includes 2006 league MVP Val Arioto. You know the Cal-bound pitcher is going to do her job and then some. But if her teammates offer her run and defensive support, then the Falcons become almost unbeatable.

San Ramon Valley (8-4)
Another team with a stellar pitcher, as Dominique Ortega begins her third year as the starter. She will get run support, and the Wolves do play good defense. SRV wore down in games against Cal and Monte Vista late last year, but it’ll be better equipped to handle those situations this year.

Granada (7-5)
Having an above .500 record in the EBAL is nothing to sneeze at, and the Matadors should be a much-improved team this season. Pitcher Kendall Beermann has a year of experience under her belt and Granada has been bolstered by the addition of a couple of talented freshmen.

California (6-6)
The Grizzlies can hit the ball as well as any team in the league. They’ll need to be since Sarah Lawrence is out for another four weeks with a broken foot. Thoughts of a league title may be out the window for the Queen of the Mountain champions,

Livermore (5-7)
The Cowboys appear to have a bright future with Kellyn Trummer and Jenny Bird in the circle, but thewy’ll need defensive support for Livermore to contend with the league’s elite.

Monte Vista (4-8)
Basically, the Mustangs will go as far as pitcher Maggie Johnson takes them. She takes over from Stephanie Bregante in the circle and is one of Monte Vista’s best hitters. The Mustangs have talented young players, but it’ll be a year before they start thinking about a championship.

Amador Valley (2-10)
It seems we say the same thing every year about the Dons. They would be good enough to compete for the championship in most other leagues, just not the EBAL. That said, Amador Valley is better this year than last year. They just have to learn how to win the close ones (after losing five games by 2 runs or less last season).


Out with class

In a move that hadn’t been done all day, each member of the Long Beach Poly girls basketball team took time out of celebrating their second straight CIF Division I state title to hug opposing coach Gene Nakamura.
Nakamura coached his final game of his 24-year career at Berkeley High School.
So after all 16 Jackrabbits received their medals for beating Berkeley 58-52 on Saturday at Arco Arena, each player trekked halfway across the court to hug Nakamura.
That is what Nakamura earned in 24 years coaching at Berkeley. Nakamura is largely credited with giving girls basketball in Northern California a face.
Nakamura won two state titles and eight NorCal titles with the Yellow Jackets.
After Long Beach Poly coach Carl Buggs hugged and shook Nakamura’s hand and then posed for pictures, Nakamura walked off the court as a coach for the final time.
With his 3-year-old granddaughter Kaelie in tow, Nakamura walked through the tunnel toward his last post-game invterview. He was stopped by television cameras for one of his last TV interviews. The McClymonds boys team, which was waiting for its Division I game to start in the tunnel, also gave Nakamura an ovation.
That is what happens when you give something a face.


More drama, but it might be too late

Berkeley pulled within 10 again on Jennifer Gross’s put back to make the scored 58-48. Aleah Bridges got 1 of 2 free throws and Gross came up with another offensive rebound.
Erica Webster’s 3-point attempt from the left wing was too hard and Long Beach Poly secured the rebound.
A missed free throw and Berkeley has life.
Mitchells 3-pointer pulled the Yellow Jackets to 58-52 with under 20 seconds to play.


Time to go

After trailing by as many as 19 points, Berkeley cut the Long Beach Poly lead to 10 on Erica Webster’s layup to make the score 53-43.
Jazmine Dixon responded with a bucket to push it back to 12 points, but the Yellow Jackets’ Jennifer Gross hit 1 of 2 free throws to pull Berkeley back within 11 with 2:12 to play.


Enthusiasm needed

The Yellow Jackets lack the spark they were playing with in the first quarter. Alex Mitchell has scored Berkeley’s last three points, but the Yellow Jackets still trail 48-30 with 2:27. Mitchell has scored five of Berkeley’s seven third-quarter points.
Berkeley also doesn’t have an answer for Jasmine Dixon, who has five points in the quarter and 21 in the game.


Time to sting

The Yellow Jackets have 16 minutes to make up 14 points and help send longtime coach Gene Nakamura out a winner in his final game.
But back-to-back turnovers is not the way to start the second half.
Jazmine Dixon continues to key Long Beach Poly. The 5-foot-11 junior just hit a layup and was fouled on the play to put the Jackrabbits up 41-23, pending the free throw with 7:00 left in the third quarter.


Halfway over

Gene Nakamura’s coached his final first half of basketball. The Yellow Jackets trail 37-23 to Long Beach Poly, in large part to offensive rebounding.
The Jackrabbits outrebounded the Yellow Jackets 12-4 on the offensive end in the first 16 minutes.
Jasmine Dixon, who killed Berkeley in last year’s state championship game with 18 points and 16 rebounds, has 16 points and six rebounds at the half. Dixon has five of Long Beach Poly’s 12 offensive rebounds.
Aleah Bridges and Alex Mitchell each have six points to lead Berkeley. Jennifer Gross has seven rebounds and three points.