#68 - My Bad

Whitley searched her bag for the joint she'd rolled the night before. Fresh off a beach volleyball scrimmage, she needed something to bring her down from the adrenaline high. Finding her prize in a half-empty Altoids tin, she lit up and took a drag, chasing it with two ibuprofen and a gulp of water.

Raised in coastal Southern California, she'd often played beach volleyball on summer outings with her friends in high school and college. Despite a strong preference for the indoor game, her lengthy wingspan and stride enabled her to cover more ground on the sand court than most. Still, she felt sluggish, which she mostly attributed to the fifteen-ish pounds she'd gained since college.

Whitley and Koga tapped Isla and Logan—two of their NU Volleyball standouts—as scrimmage partners. Isla showed the influence of Whitley's individual coaching, playing more aggressively on both offense and defense. Logan, the third-year setter who would inherit the role as team Captain, served as a formidable strategic foe, demonstrating qualities that could someday make her into a good coach. The pair's established rapport as teammates combined with their underdog energy kept the game close for half of the first set. They even pulled ahead eight games to seven before Whitley and Koga took control and scored the next eight points to win. The next set was a massacre, with Whitley and Koga dominating 15-4. With her superior in-game vision and instincts, Whitley directed the short game, while counting on Koga to map the broader strategic picture—an approach they would consider applying to their Assistant Coaching responsibilities next season.

Following a quick post-game debrief, Koga and Isla headed to the food carts to retrieve lunch, Logan ran through her post-game stretches, and Whitley got pleasantly stoned. Though outspoken and strong-willed, Logan was not the type to concern herself with Whitley's vice, which was already common knowledge to the team. Finishing her stretches, she walked over to Whitley and waited patiently for her to take a couple more hits before speaking up.

"Hey, Coach Valentine?"

"Call me Whitley," she croaked, mid-draw. "I get the formality thing, but this ain't the place for it. On the court, we're peers."

Logan pointed at Whitley's joint. "Can I hit that, then?"

Whitley passed to Logan. "The strain is Raspberry Helix. The raspberry is there, but I don't know what helix is supposed to taste like."

Logan took a quick puff, holding it in. "A mix of licorice and vanilla. It's an indica-dominant hybrid strain out of California." Whitley raised an eyebrow but said nothing, as Logan let the smoke plume out of her mouth. "You do this after every game?" she asked, passing to Whitley.

"Goes back to my playing days," Whitley said, taking a puff and passing back to Logan. "You?"

"That or sex. Both if I can swing it."

Whitley nodded with approval at Logan's forthrightness. As team captain, Logan’s responsibilities were many, and she shouldered them without complaint. Coaching the front row players, Whitley had few opportunities to connect with Logan, a setter who worked primarily with Koga. Short on talk and direct with both questions and requests, Logan’s upfront frankness often irritated Coach Richter—a trait Whitley admired.

"So, Whitley," Logan continued, declining another hit. "We've done three of these scrimmages, and there's something about you I can't figure out. It's driving me crazy."

"Just one thing?"

"Your height."

Whitley exhaled a massive cloud of smoke. "Join the club."

"Your height is…" Logan paused, unsure of her next words. Whitley recognized Logan knew what she wanted to say but was uncertain whether she should say it out loud.

"If you're afraid of offending me—"

Logan shook her head. "I'm not. I want to be accurate. Your height is remarkable, but it's also impractical. I used to watch you play when you were in college. You were more athletic. Faster. I feel like your ideal height was 6'10."

"I don't disagree. Those were my best years." The weed was kicking in, and Whitley had no idea where this conversation was headed. While apprehensive of discussions about her height, Logan's angle had sufficiently piqued her curiosity.

"You're slower, but you've turned that into an asset. Before, it was like you were thinking one second ahead of everyone. Now, you can't move as fast, but you dialed it up to two seconds. The whole time we played, you never did what I expected you to do. It was torture for someone who thinks like I do."

"Coulda fooled me," Whitley said.

Logan looked surprised. "You guys won 15-8 and 15-4. It wasn't even close. It was like every three games you were tossing a different strategy at us."

"And you two adapted every time, mostly thanks to you. It was pretty cool."

Logan laughed. "Yeah. It would have worked if you weren't much better than we were."

Whitley sat down at a nearby picnic table and gestured for Logan to join her. "Y'know, I've watched you in huddles. You pick up stuff real quick, but you're also good at breaking it down for everyone else. The first thing is admirable, but not everyone can do the second. I sure can't. What's your secret?"

"I take an accurate look at where I am and try to picture what I can realistically do to get where I want to be." Logan shrugged. "It works for me, and only has a slightly lower success rate on the court."

"Why lower?"

"Well, sometimes my instincts are straight-up wrong, but more often because everyone doesn't do exactly what I say," Logan covered her mouth with her hand. "Wow, that came out worse than I—"

"Don't apologize. Own it. I'd rather have an overconfident team captain than one who constantly second-guesses herself. It's easier to instill humility than raise confidence. Building confidence takes a long-term commitment. Humility just requires a force greater than yourself, and the universe has that in spades."

Logan chuckled. "You don't gotta tell me. My moment was two months ago when you throttled our asses in that three-on-three scrimmage."

"Yeah?"

"For sure. You know, for a long time, I chalked losses up to everyone except me. It's admittedly a little ego-centric, but kind of a comforting way to live."

Whitley chuckled. "Right?"

"But then I played against you. Despite all my years watching you absolutely embarrass the opposition, there was a moment when I actually believed we could win—particularly when we were up by three. Coach Koga had been solid, and Isla was playing smarter and better than I imagined her capable of. I was all ready to celebrate when you went and blocked that spike of hers out of nowhere."

"I wasn't about to lose to y'all," Whitley said, with a sidelong glance.

"And that's just the thing. You took us down like there was no conceivable version of reality where we won that game. I know, because I've gone over your last three points literally hundreds of times in my head since then."

Whitley paused, studying the stone-cold serious expression on Logan's face, before bursting into laughter. "Aw, come on. I did the exact same maneuver twice in a row. Normally I wouldn't, but y'all gave me every reason to believe I could do it again. Pro tip: get intimidated all you want, but for God's sake, don't show it. Your opponent will eat you alive."

"That's it? That's your secret?"

Whitley shook her head and took another puff from the joint Logan realized she was still hitting. "Secret? Nah, I got ninety-nine secrets, but that ain't one."

Logan grinned. "So, do I get to be your next project?"

"You don't need me for that. You could learn way more from Koga than me, and speaking of which..." Whitley perked up at the sight of Koga and Isla, their arms filled with food and drinks. "Hey, go help them out. I don't need Boba tea spilled on me again."

Logan jogged over just in time to save a hot dog that nearly slipped from Isla's hands. The two arranged the food on the table while Koga handed Whitley a large iced coffee.

Koga sniffed the air. "Huh. You two bonding over here?"

"More or less," Whitley said, dismissively.

"Ugh, that's the last thing I need. I have enough trouble with that one without you rubbing off on her. Don't get me wrong, she's a great player and a phenomenal leader, but a little more humility could do her good. What do you think?" Koga looked up to see Whitley still watching Isla and Logan. Koga waited a bit before snapping her fingers, jogging Whitley into focus. "Hey, stoner! Back to Earth."

"Sorry, I was just thinking how they think we're doing this for us when we're really doing it for them."

"Wow, those are some strong sentiments coming from you. I appreciate your emerging passion for player development, but we have more work to do if we're going to be serious about this whole thing."

"'Serious?' What, you think we can coach NU to the semis next year?"

"Um, no. I'm talking about us. You and I."

Whitley stared at her blankly.

"The beach volleyball tournament? The whole reason we're doing these scrimmages?"

Whitley slapped her forehead. "Oh, that. Duh. Yeah, I figure we'll do a few more before we tell them I withdrew us from the tournament."

Koga dropped her tea. "You pulled us out of the tournament!?!?"

"Aw shit, did I not tell you either? My bad."

◄#Halloween2019