April 27, 2014

May the Odds Be Never in Your Favor

And so this brings us to the end of April.

The final vacation of the year (there are four 2-week vacations every school year in France, and it's rad) has come to a close, and with it the end of my first losing season in Europe. As the 9th place team, we had our last match today against the 10th place team, and we won in three sets (video here). It was too little, too late, unfortunately.

The 2013-2014 season was the perfect storm against me and my team. When I signed with VGA Saint Maur, we had eight returners, including the starting libero, opposite, and middle. The three allowed transfers were myself, one of my outsides from La Rochette (Adeline), and a super competitive Brazilian-turned-French coach/player (Simone). It was the right decision to make - and despite this season's results - I stand by my decision.

By the time the first day of practice rolled around in August, two returners were injured and one was pregnant. That left a solid five returners - until practices got going, and within only two weeks, three more of the returners jumped ship for personal reasons. We had matches coming up, and only five players! Adeline scrambled together four of her friends who hadn't played last year (because we had already used our maximum number of three transfers). Simone brought two friends to tryout. One of the injured players sent one of her friends to play with us. We got a coach two weeks after practices officially started.

Because every great season starts this way...NEVER.

We managed to have enough players for every match, and at our end-of-the-year party this afternoon, the girls looked around and asked, "Was any one person even at all of the matches?" The "pas moi's" went around the group until it got to me, and it was true: I was the only player who had been present at every match, nay, the only person, because even our coach had missed once!

We didn't win enough matches/points to stay in our N2 division, so next season we will be in the next division down. This is really sad because I came to this club to play in this division, and it was the right decision to make.

This perfect storm had no mercy...

The team Adeline and I left, La Rochette, ended up in a weak N3 pool. Throw in American attacker Amy and a strong coach, and blend together for an undefeated season! They will be in the N2 division next season.

Friends from both of my clubs here have asked me if I regretted my decision. NO.

I told La Rochette in my meetings with them last year that in order to win N3, they were going to have to get an incredible "go-to" outside hitter, and a coach who actually demanded competitiveness. Thank you for proving me right.

I never did go into detail on the blog about what happened at the end of last season because it was all very sudden and upsetting. I had opportunities to explain the very complicated back-and-forth of the situation to a few family members over the summer, but I know it will always be a big pile of confusing insanity.

This is how I know I made the right decision last year.

The clean and easy to understand version of what happened is this. La Rochette wanted me to re-commit to the team by the end of March. (This might sound reasonable to anyone who's never played women's volleyball overseas. On 95% of women's volleyball teams, from Pro A to anyone rich enough to have a foreigner, re-commitments are made in the last month or after the season ends. Read: end of April to beginning of June.)

I told La Rochette I wanted until the end of April to make my decision. Why? We didn't have a coach. All the club would tell me was that they were talking to prospects. Not helpful. I didn't want to play N3 anymore, we didn't have any coaches on the horizon, and a lot of my teammates were saying they were going to leave. I decided to go on tryouts around Paris and be open to new clubs. This did not sit well with La Rochette.

But even if I had bowed to their pressures to commit in March and re-sign and whatever, I would have arrived at the exact same fate. The very real question loomed in my mind, "What if the coach they hire doesn't want an American setter?"

I know I have a sweet job and I'm living the dream and all that great stuff. I don't deny this and I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me. But these "contracts" we have from clubs aren't exactly ironclad, and can definitely be brushed off with simple things like, "we changed our goals," "we don't have anymore money," and "foreigners are too much of a hassle."

Like any of us 20-something-year-old volleyball gals are going to have the gumption and resources to find a local lawyer to go to court for us over a couple of sheets of paper with shoddy translations and, oh, look, a clause that says the club has the right to terminate your job for this and that reason (which would always be able to be tied back to the budget).

Some serious communication problems went on for a few weeks last year before La Rochette announced the new coach - who wanted to bring his French setter along so the club could hire the amazing American attacker that they desperately needed.

I got fired for being too ambitious and too American.

VGA Saint Maur hired me the very next day, and, when I signed, everything looked promising. But seasons are long in Europe, and anything can happen.

What of it?

My teammates, and now friends, at VGA Saint Maur are really cool people. Even though we were thrown together at the last minute, the camaraderie we have is undeniable. We still have a lot of work to do with on-the-court chemistry, but we have the off-court cohesion thing mastered. We had one really incredible match this year against Nantes, and I will never forget it.

Marc and I got to move closer to Paris. Cool. Duh.

That American attacker Amy? Yeah, we're basically best friends. And she still gets a lot of our mail (thank you).

I made the right decision. My life has been enriched this year, and that's more than enough.

It's seasons like this that remind us:  

There's more to life than volleyball.

No regrets.