Sunday, April 10, 2011

And we're officially done...

Wow...has it really been since March 27th? I am slacking! Anyways, as you could surmise from the title, my season in Russia has come to an awkward ending (I wouldn't have it any other way). Now I won't bore you guys with all the details of every match that we competed in, so I'll just give you a brief summation of what I've been up to the last week.

Our quarterfinals series was against a team called Zenit-Kazan (they're from Kazan). They are probably the best or second best team in Russia and one of the top teams in Europe. Earlier in the week they had competed in the finals of Champions League and placed second to a team from Italy. Our first two matches were in Kazan and, as a team, we didn't think we had much of a chance to compete against these guys. It was kind of a weird mood headed into the playoffs, but our team hasn't been very motivated all season so it wasn't too much of a surprise to hear people say this. Either way, our first match took place on the 30th of March. Right out of the gates, we knew we weren't going to do so well. Our passing was off and we just couldn't get any momentum against Kazan. We ended up losing in 3 sets and I was worried and excited that this would be a very quick series. The following night it was a much different story. Kazan looked tired. They had played 4 matches in about 7 days and it was easy to tell that the traveling and tough schedule had taken their toll. Their serves were flat and not very powerful and they just didn't have a lot of motivation. But even when this team is at 80%, they're still better than most teams in Russia. It took a great team effort on our part to win this match in 5 sets. I think a lot of the guys were a little surprised with the outcome and felt that we had stolen this match from Kazan. So going back to Yaroslavl, we were tied with Kazan 1-1 in matches.

In game action! Woo hoo!
 Our next matches took place on the 4th and 5th of April. So we had a little break to get some rest and to feel fresh for what we thought would be two very difficult matches. Again, the team's spirit was not of confidence but relief because of the big upset that we pulled the previous match. I think this feeling of luck transferred into our next match because we played amazing. Even if you would have put out the best national team or all-star team in the world against our team that night, we still would have won. Our passing, blocking, serving and attacking were connecting in a way that I'd never seen from this team before. That was the biggest shock of the night for me. I have never seen this team play this well or this motivated since I arrived in Russia. It was a great match to watch if you were a Yaro fan. Going into the 4th match, we had a 2-1 advantage and I wasn't sure what Kazan team was going to show up. It seems like we'd been playing more consistent than this team that's one of the best in the world. It was strange to see this happen. Well, by the end of the night, I knew which Kazan team had come to the was the team that was one the best in Europe. Just like we beat them up pretty good the previous night, they beat us up even worse the next. They won in 3 sets and I think the match might have taken an hour and ten minutes. It was a true beat down and almost a statement that Kazan was making to us. All of this didn't really matter because there was still one more match to be played back in Kazan to decide who would be moving onto the semi's.

Arriving in Kazan, we were tired. Unlike in America with most pro leagues, the Russian league doesn't normally play more than one or two matches per week. Since we were playing our 5 match in 10 days, our guys were feeling pretty worn down and I could tell that the Kazan players were feeling pretty much the same. I had a feeling this match was going to be an up and down battle for both teams, and it didn't disappoint. We came out with pretty good motivation and were able to take the first set without much difficulty. The second set ended up being a real battle with Kazan edging us 28-26. The third set was all Yaro and the fourth was all Kazan. This set up probably the craziest 5th set I've ever experienced in my life. We came out playing really well and were pretty much in control of the entire set. There was one play that I was almost positive sealed our win. We had dug a ball about 20 feet off the court and our setter ran it down and passed a ball about 40 feet into the air in the middle of the court. Normally most people wouldn't take a swing at this ball because of the awkward timing, but our middle back decided to just roll the ball over and Kazan didn't prepare for this at all. This put us up 13-10 and I knew we had this match won. Not many teams have ever come back from this type of deficit in rally score volleyball. We were able to get match point at 14-11 and then the craziness started. 
14-11: Kazan sides out with a kill by Reid Priddy (USA guy)
14-12: Good pass by Yaro and we set our opposite who'd been on fire. He hits the ball off the block, it lands out of bounds and we win. Nope! The ref and line judges say no touch.
14-13: Good pass and we set our Opp again. He gets blocked straight down.
14-14: Good pass and we set our Opp again. He hits a ball cross-court and lands 2 feet in bounds. The line judges and ref call the ball out. I'm pretty sure I thought the guys were going to punch the referee and line judges after this call.
14-15: Good pass and we set our Opp again. He finally gets a kill. Are we predictable in crunch time?
15-15: We serve, they side out.
16-15: Lloy Ball serving (USA guy). We pass the ball okay, set to our outside and he hits it out. Match over!

I'm sure this didn't do it justice, but it was the weirdest, craziest thing I've ever seen in volleyball. But apparently this wasn't so abnormal because Russian referees have a tendency to be heavily influenced by the home team. So whatever. We are finished with the season. I'm hoping to leave on Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest and I can't wait to get home to see Kate. I miss her and I miss Harry as well. It's been a real interesting experience playing here and I'd love to come back to this league because I know I'd improve as a volleyball player. The level is really strong and if I get another chance, I will be back. 

on to the next one...

k + a