Day 4, Friday, July 15: Today are the semifinals and finals for beach volleyball. This is it. I woke up early and looked out from the small balcony off my room. At 5:30 am the incoming tide was so high it seemed to swallow the beach, even threatening the volleyball courts of the jetty-protected Hof Saronit. The break in the super-hot weather has brought rollers on the Mediterranean.
Surfers must have been watching the weather report because even at this early hour I see about 5 or 6 surfers paddling out to catch a wave. By 6:30 more than 2 dozen surfers were bobbing atop the waters, waiting for a good one. The, wind, too, is up. The US team had agreed that wind might play to their advantage, since the winds blowing onto the L.A. beaches can get pretty stiff. They are used to playing against the wind.
At breakfast, I sit at a small table by myself. Jon, Danny, Melody, and a few other volleyball competitors sit at a large table adjacent to mine. I hear a snatch of Jon's advice to Danny, regarding blocking at the net: "Do not jump early. Wait, wait, wait." I've seen the results of this. It must be sooo hard to wait, but the timing on blocking a shot must be just right. Jon jokes about my not wanting to eat with them, but I explain that often Ami does not like to talk first thing in the morning, so I figured the same for them. Plus after waking up Ilan yesterday, I decided I'd best not bother anyone. I learn that Melody is from that most pleasant of "towns," Santa Monica. Although Fran has not come down yet, I am reminded how her last name, Seagull, so fits someone who spends lots of time on the beach.
I then headed over to the Internet cafe to post yesterday's info before the games began. While rushing back along the promenade to deposit camera download equipment at the hotel, I bumped into Ami and Ilan rushing off to their game. They looked pretty sleepy. Good luck, I said. They play Jon and Aaron at 10:30 am: their match in the semifinals.
Before the semifinals, we all gather in the stands. However, Neil, Ilan's dad, is in his usual position, filming from behind the barrier at one end of the court (photo: Ilan, his dad and grandmother).
Talia and Uri, my friend and her son, have taken the train up from Tel Aviv. Ilan's grandmother and cousins sit in the stands next to us. I had told Jon and Aaron, "We'd like to yell "USA" for this match, but..." They knew how it went: blood trumps tribe.
The game began. Ami and Ilan were not having an easy time of it. Shots and blocks they usually would have managed with ease, they were flubbing. They lost the first game 11-21. Arrggghhh, what happened? Apparently, earlier in the week, during practice, they beat Jon and Aaron. They can do it. So what's with this score?
The second game they pulled themselves together more:
But Jon was his usual consistent self and Aaron was hot on defense. I especially remember two killer shots he saved that looked unsaveable. A comment behind me, maybe from one of the Aussies since it was in English, is that Aaron has improved considerably during these games. He plays a sport at UCLA--lebara? something like that--that really hones defensive moves.
At one point, after Ami made an unexpected smart, light touch that won them a point, Danny, sitting behind me, said, "Ami's got beautiful hands," explaining that Ami gets himself in exactly the right position then lets hand control finish the job. Earlier, Ami had explained to me that the aerobic demands of some of the other sports he's played keeps him moving fast so he can get in position. I can't remember if I've mentioned this, but Ami and John Woo, his partner on the L.A. beaches, won a tournament a couple of months ago that got them a AAA rank. That's the level just below professional rankings.
Ami did get off one of his "I'm burying this" hits, but they lost the second game, too, 13-21. Hmmm, they looked asleep when I saw them hurrying to the courts. Maybe they still were asleep. Wake up, guys!!
Meanwhile, Israel played Mexico in their semifinal match. Israel won the first game, Mexico the second. But Israel came back to win the third. That means Ami/Ilan play Mexico for the bronze at 1 pm. And Jon/Aaron play Israel for the gold/silver at 2 pm.
As people waited, I went with Uri to the beach. I was wearing the new crop pants I'd bought the day before, so I just waded out in the water while watching Uri have a great time jumping among the low rollers and letting surf break against him. Tempted, I rolled my pants up, but went too deep, getting myself soaked.
The play for bronze begins. Ami and Ilan have finally woken up! They look good: pass, set, shot. Blocks. It's all working and they win the first game 21-18. The second game is close, but Mexico takes it. They must play a third. Agh, the tension rises. Ami's neck--strained muscles--have been killing him. The doctor assigned by the Maccabiah had given him a shot of litocaine(sp?) the day before, but that pain-duller had worn off. He's played hurt before, so dig deep, Ami!
The third game begins. The US pulls ahead by a point or 2, then Mexico catches up. It happens again and again. The Mexico cheering contingent is large...and loud: Meh-hi-co! Meh-hi-co! We yell, too. Can they hear us? Does it help? Ilan looks great, making fine line shots that Mexico cannot get to. Ami works both with a light touch and his scary hits. These guys are on a roll! But they get to 15--total points needed to win a tie-breaking third game--and Mexico is still only one point behind. Gotta win by 2.
Mexico gets the next one: 15-15. US pulls ahead. Mexico catches up. Now Mexico pulls ahead: 17-16. Our hearts are in our mouths. My stomach is somewhere else entirely and we're screaming like crazy. It's 19-19. ohpleaseohpleaseohplease. US answers me with 20-19. I'm such a wreck that I barely remember the last point, but all of a sudden it's 21-19 and...Ami and Ilan have got the Maccabiah bronze medal!!!!!
With such a neck-and-neck finish, this has been by far the most exciting game of the tournament.
Now US 1 and Israel 1 begin the final match:
Well-matched, the points mount. But Israel's coach has set up a camera on a tripod on the sand behind the court. Although it's outside the 5-meter protected zone, it's just outside the zone, within range of balls and not really b'seder. Worse, when the US is serving from that side and whoever is at the net, with hands behind him, signals to the server, the Israeli coach sees the signals and relays them to his players. Not nice. The US complains, and the coach quits his attempts to cheat. Ami tells the ref that even the camera being there is dangerous, but they don't make the coach move his camera. Some of the reffing has been good, some of it way out of date (Jon explained), some of it bad. Ask someone with more knowledge than I if you want to know more about the refs.
Israel wins the first game 21-19. Close enough so that we know Jon and Aaron can win the second. And they do!
And, now, the final game. Like the match for bronze, this goes back and forth. Jon and Aaron look a bit ragged, compared to their usual collected selves. The US water polo team, who have been playing in Tiberias, show up to cheer on the US: a crew of large bodies with big voices. Exactly what we need (although Jon has assured me earlier that while the ball is in play experienced competitors do not hear a thing, being totally focused on their game). We yelled and shouted "U-S-A, U-S-A." Israelis yelled and shouted "Yis-ra-el, Yis-ra-el." The Israelis pulled ahead...and then it was all over. Israel had won the gold, US1 the silver, and US2 the bronze.
Who knows why one good teams beats another good team on any given day. The reasons are many. It's consistency over time that tells the tale. Maybe it would have been more satisfying with the US in the top 2 positions, but for me this worked. And, it was a fine tournament. The comaraderie was one of the best parts. I wish I had had a chance to root for Mexico, too, but...next time.
Now Ami is off to Hertzlia Petuach to spend Shabbat with Shaked and his family. As Ami has described him, Shaked has been a prince of a guy. He runs the Hertzlia Arena and works with the Israeli international team. When the volleyball players got to Netanya, there were no practice courts. It was not Shaked's responsibility at all, but he managed to organize courts and other things for them. He is a mensch.
I am returning with Talia to Tel Aviv, not going to the medals ceremony Saturday night, when the mayor of Netanya, a woman most say is doing a terrific job as mayor, will hand out the medals. I'll return to tell more about the women's play and get some background on the Israeli men. At the very start of the games, the first time I saw Israel 1 (the gold medalists) walk onto a court for practice, I said to myself of one: "How can a guy with such skinny legs be a good player?" I was disabused of that notion right away. Israel 1 is good.
But we must hurry to catch a ride because it is Friday late afternoon and soon things will be shutting down for Shabbat.
L'hitraot! (See you!)