So arriving on Saturday morning the final match brackets are posted. For all of Friday's matches, officials are rated by the coaches, their partner, and observers/raters. I was extremely honored to be selected to down ref (umpire/R2/whatever) the 2A championship match (with Alan, my partner from Friday morning). Several people congratulated me, and honestly I was surprised, as this was my first state tourney, so it was quite an honor for me.

But, moving on, I had to ref a match that morning. One of the teams was a local Seattle school, the Bush Blazers, who were a semi-favorite to win the championship but lost their first round match, making 5th their best possible outcome (this is a shame of the modified double elimination format the WIAA switched to a couple of years ago, one loss in the first round puts you out of contention for 1st-4th, no matter if you sweep from then out. The format change was necessary as the pool play/bracket format of years past often put matches going into midnight/1AM on the 1st day, which just ran everyone ragged, so you have to be perfect at state to win).

Bush went up 2 games-0, and then managed to lose the next 2 to force 5. I must be cursed (or my partner was, as he was the up ref and my 1st match Friday then went 5). The game went so long that I was at risk of not being able to switch over to the other court for the next match I was scheduled to ref, so as soon as we were done I signed the scoresheet and ran over. Warmups were already started, but since I was there in time, I kept the match.

Sometimes it's good to not have time to think. I introduced myself to my crew (all of whom it was my 1st time working with), and after just a couple of minutes went up to start the match - and it was my best/favorite match of the tournament. Everything pretty much clicked - the setters were clean, which made it easy to call ball handling. My line judges were rock solid, never had to think about their calls - and my down ref was on top of everything. Even with all that, it was still pretty eventful (this was a semi-final match - winner moved up to final, loser went to 3rd place match, so a lot was riding on the match).

Somewhere in game 2, I think, passer overpasses into the net, but setter makes a great save to the back row, and I watch the hitter out of the back row do a great jump and spike... only she's wearing a different color jersey. Oops. I whistle and signal illegal attack, and the coach and players are looking very confused. So I call over the captain and explain patiently:

Me: So the reason I made a call there is that your libero is never allowed to attack the ball when it's above the height of the net, regardless of whether she was in the back row or not. She can never do it.
Captain: (nodding) Ohh.... OK.

(How is it they get to state and don't know the rules?)

Shortly afterwards there's a timeout and my line judges come over (they're all local officials), and congratulate me on a great quick call.

Somewhere later in the game, on a great dig, the libero runs over and sets the ball, with one foot in the front zone. I'm watching the ball and attacker to see where it's hit, and out of the corner of my eye I see the opposing coach literally leaping off of her seat to complain that I haven't called an illegal attack yet. Patience.... I wait for the hitter to complete the hit above the height of the net, and make the call, and my R2 does a great job explaining to the coach why the call happened when it did.

A bit later in game 3, the libero again attacks above the net, and gets called again.

Then on the opposite team, on a great blocked ball that got popped up, a player from her knees tries to set it up and just does this awful double (but single play on the ball). I almost gag on my whistle and let the play go, and again in the corner of my eye I see the assistant coach yelling about the non-call (again, how do they not know the rules?). The other assistant grabs his arm to shut him up before he gets too out of hand, but even after the play he's chirping.

So I wait a few plays until the next time out and then call over my R2. I ask her to please explain to the assistant male coach that the reason why I didn't make a call on that blatantly obvious (even to me) double was that it was the team's first contact, and a double hit is allowed regardless of finger action, and I'd make the same call for his team.

So my partner trots over and explains the rule to the assistant coach, who smiles and nods and gives me a thumbs-up. Problem solved, moving on.

The game ends in 3 straight, but I barely even noticed because I was having a lot of fun ref'ing the match. It was one of my best matches all year, both in terms of how I did and how much I enjoyed it, and it's why I'll do it again next year. I thank my crew, who did an awesome job and who congratulate me as well, and now ponder what to do with my 6 hours of free time until the championship match.

[time passes and our hero returns]

As I was killing time waiting for the 1st place match, I was sitting on the event floor watching the 3rd place match. As it happened, I was sitting next to the WIAA Executive Director, who was there to hand out the trophies. About 1/2 way through the match, one of the local officials who was watching got up to leave, walked over to me, and thanked me for the great ref'ing job I had done and said he hoped he could work with me in the future.

I was startled by this very sincere compliment, and thanked him and wished him the same. As he left, the WIAA ED turned to me and said "Sometimes that's all you really want, isn't it?"

And it's very true - I've had plenty of parents come up to me after a match and complain about how I was unfair to their team/player/child/whatever. Usually you can let these go, but it's hard enough doubting yourself without having that tacked on.

At the same time, I've had many more players, coaches, and parents approach me after a match and thank me for a job well done. I can't tell you how rewarding it is to hear that kind of thanks. Very few of us ref volleyball for the money - most do it for a love of the sport and wanting to give something back to players who just want a fair match to play at. If you're a parent reading this, please remember that officials put in a lot of time/energy to ref your child's matches and aren't making a lot of money at it. So be kind.... rewind.

[mush section over]

Alan and I met up ahead of time to work out how we want to divide up responsibilities for the match. Since it's the championship, we'll have 4 line judges instead of 2, so we talk with them about how to work with 4 and then get our picture taken as the officiating crew.

The one complaint I had about the court layout was that 4 of the 5 courts were set up right next to the stands, so as the down ref I would literally back into the bleachers (which started just above my head level). This doesn't leave a whole lot of room, and as I discovered, also means that when the front two rows are all high school kids in face paint and screaming and banging on chairs in front of them, get very very loud. I wear earplugs when I'm up ref'ing, but down ref'ing I don't because I need to hear coach's requests and the scorekeeper. For this match, it meant I was yelling sub numbers to the scorekeeper while trying to keep things moving (and keeing an ear out for any inappropriate taunts from the fans).

The match got a lot of attention. We had press photographers all around the court (I forgot to mention, some small town radio stations actually broadcast the games to their towns - a first for me to see for volleyball). Plus, since all the other refs are pretty much done, you're the focus of attention. Nothing like all your peers watching you in a high-stakes match to focus your attention. :-)

Alan did a great job as up ref - good control, consitency, mechanics, very much in charge and fair. I think I did the same at down ref. One team kept on confusing me on rotation and I'd be 99% sure they were out of rotation but didn't want to call it, then I'd check it and be right but they'd have rotated. Finally I caught it in time and whistled the fault (in game 2, I think). Then in Game 3 I started to see it happen again, and I told the asssistant coach "Coach, #7 is creeping forward again", and he got her to step back.

The match was everyting you'd want in a championship. Awesome offense and defense, some great digging. Unfortunately, one team was just out-matched by the middle blocker of the other team, and had a hard time adapting. In the 4th game, as his team was struggling to adapt, the coach called his 2nd time out early, and I told him at the end "That's two, coach." He looked at me and smiled and said "Are you sure there's not another one in there somewhere?" Right back I quipped "In game 5, sure."

Finally we got to championship point, and the team that was behind manages to eek out a couple, making it 20-24, I think. There's a hit down my side, and it clearly appears to be going out. I sneak a peek out of the corner of my eye and see it go out, and I look up at Alan and mirror his "out" signal, when I sense something amiss to my right, and I see the coach for the behind team (that just won the point) up and screaming at the line judge. I can't see the LJ because the coach is in my way, but I can't imagine he called it in, and Alan has already called it out, so what is he yelling about? (The coach had complained about the LJ calls previously). I quickly go over and get the coach to sit down, and Alan adminsters a yellow card, which I quickly tell the score table and try to get the match resumed ASAP. Two serves later the match is over, and we gather up and go.

When we manage to debrief afterwards, the LJ tells us the coach used the f-word at him, making it a good thing neither Alan or I heard it, as that would have been red card-point-match over. I'm not sure what he thought was up, but oh well.

And that was my weekend. I said goodbye to the great people I worked with over the weekend, we picked up some photos of our group from the event, and then we scattered to the winds. I decided to surprise Prashanthi by driving back that night instead of the next day, and immediately went to bed when I got home. :-)

I had a great time, and hope to do it again next year. And since it's now close to 1AM here, I'm done and heading home. And that finishes my volleyball work for the year.... until USAV in the spring. :-)