Mud Volleyball 2001
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Each year as part of the Pasadena Strawberry Festival, there is an enormous Mud Volleyball tournament. This year (2001) I was told they had 112 teams participate!! This was advertised as being the largest Mud Volleyball Tournament in the World. Naturally SSQQ had to make the scene of an event as important as this!

A Mud Volleyball game is played in a gigantic pit dug out by earth movers. My guess is the careful, scientific leveling of the surface after the earth removal is ignored because there were a couple spots where my foot never actually quite discovered the bottom!! Just standing up was often quite an accomplishment, much less actually trying to move. 


Since the player's mobility is so limited, there are actually 8 players to a side instead of the usual 6. Two women are supposed to be on the court at all times, so it is mixed play. 

It is a double elimination tournament. Your team plays until it loses twice, and then you go home. This year 111 teams went home mad; most teams go home mad sooner than others. For two years in a row, my team has gone home mad. 


The SSQQ Backyard Volleyball League

Just to offer some background, I have an informal Backyard Volleyball league at my house. We play on Saturday mornings about every two weeks on a concrete court. Although people are reluctant to dive on the court, we don't care because anyone fanatic enough to dive on court isn't welcome anyway. The fact that the court is private, is enshrouded by beautiful trees, and has non-stop music makes for a very pleasant atmosphere. 

The level of our Backyard Volleyball is pretty good. We bump, set, spike, and block. Although some players are better than others, everyone is a good player. Plus we are competitive. For example, if you don't know how to set, then we don't let you set. Our volleyball isn't "social". In other words, we are not a good place to learn to play the sport. We prefer people who already know what they are doing.

Mud Volleyball Tournament 2000

Early in the spring of 2000, two of my Backyard VBall buddies, Mike Gerstenberger and Louis Farmacka, invited me to play on their 2000 Mud Volleyball team. I was very skeptical. It sounded ridiculous. Pasadena is a long way away and it didn't sound like fun. But they appeared to really need some players. After thinking about it, I realized how opposed I always am to doing anything new. As my daughter puts it, "Dad, you are an old stick in the mud." I decided a stick in the mud would be perfectly suited to this game, so I said I would join them. 

Well, to make a long story short, after giving it a try, I was very intrigued by the sport, but I also went home mad. We won two games and lost two games, but should have done much better. I vowed we would indeed do much better THIS YEAR.

Here is the story:

The Amazing 2000 Mud Volleyball Tournament!

On Saturday, May 20th, 4 wild and crazy members from our Backyard Gang played in the Pasadena Mud Volleyball tournament. The lunatics included Nakia Harrison, Louis Farmacka, Mike Gerstenberger, and myself. An artistic success it wasn’t. None of us resembled Karch Kiraly out there. Now that I think of it, we didn’t even resemble ourselves either. It was a fascinating event nonetheless. The psychological benefits alone made the entire day a growth experience. In fact, I have noticed several new growths….(just kidding).

Just my luck it was the Muddiest “Mud Volleyball” tournament of all time. The huge rains that flooded Liberty the night before stopped just shortly before the tournament began. As a result the mud pits were twice as deep in water. Normally the water covers your ankles, but this time it was up to our knees in places. There was Zero mobility. You could dive, but you couldn’t really take two steps to get the ball. If you had good footing you could take perhaps a small step to your left or right, but that was about it. You were likely to slip if you took more than half a step. Back-pedaling was out of the question. Moving forward was possible, but very difficult. Even getting into the mud pit was an adventure – the sidelines had become quagmire after last night’s rains. You couldn’t even get to your court without stepping in the deepest mud imaginable. As I looked for my team, I wondered at what I had gotten myself into. This was awful!

I got there late for the first Match. When I arrived, I found my team, “Lock and Load”, had just dropped the first game. They had only 6 players while the other team had the proper number of eight. To show “solidarity” I jumped in and immersed myself up to my neck. I wanted to be sure to get disgusting early so there wouldn’t be any reason not to dive at a ball if the opportunity presented itself. I knew only "dirty" players were successful in this league. No such thing as a clean victory here!

Just having one more player made a lot of difference. After losing the first game 11-2, we turned around and won our last two games to take the match. Nice comeback!! I quickly learned that spiking and setting were out of the question. The only play that made any sense at all was to get two hands on the heavy, wet ball and use all your power to send it back over the net. Even doing that wasn’t very easy!! Plus bumping the ball was difficult since the water was right at the level where the arm platform would normally work.

I quickly discovered why the court played 8 instead of the usual 6. Since no one could move, the only way to cover the court was to have more players. The lack of enough players would dog us all day. Louis had recruited two excellent players who suddenly informed him at 5 pm Friday that they had been ordered to report to work on Saturday. Mike sent out urgent emergency emails for new players to join us, but like Custer, no one came to our rescue. Unlike a land court where a quick player can cover extra territory, losing a player in this game was huge because there was no mobility to speak of. If the ball was hit to an open area, all we could do was watch helplessly as it flew by and hit the water with an irritating splash. After a while, all of us began lunging at balls other players might have had a better shot at because we figured anything within reach demanded a desperation try. Playing short-handed created a lot of mistakes.

For the second match we snuck in an illegal “eighth” player. This guy was from another team that was waiting for their next game. Unfortunately he wasn’t very good. Plus we accidentally chose the bad side (deeper water, more uneven surface). Even though we won the coin toss, we took the serve. In retrospect this was a very bad move since it meant we played two of our three games on the bad side. The team playing on the “good side” won each time, which meant we lost the Match. This was a particularly galling loss because we beat them handily when we played on the good side, so it is likely we would have won this Match if we had chosen this side. It also turned out this was a pretty good team. Later that day I found that this team was still undefeated as I left. Despite all our handicaps, we had played them pretty close. In fact we should have beaten them.

The pits are dug out by earth movers. My guess is the careful, scientific leveling of the surface after the earth removal is ignored. There were a couple spots where my foot never actually quite discovered the bottom!! Before each play I would shift around till I found one spot where my feet were reasonably sure of the footing. Just standing up was an accomplishment at times.

As Nakia and I sat on the sidelines fuming from our narrow loss, we were muddy, we were cold, and we were wondering what had ever possessed us to do this. My hair was sticky with mud, my white shirt was now brown from being soaked in the muddy water, and there were little gritty rocks in my wet shoes that drove me mad! Nakia and I talked openly about how we were glad we lost the last game because now we could deliberately lose the next match and go home (double elimination tournament). Plus we had to just sit there for half an hour or more waiting for our next game. Since the bleachers had no support for our backs, we got stiff and sore just sitting there. It was a good thing I had Nakia to sit next to. Misery loves company.

Then the sun came out!! Our spirits lifted noticeably. When the third match presented itself, I actually had a bounce in my step as I entered the water. Win or lose, I was getting more comfortable with these strange conditions. This time we kicked serious butt. Louis had recruited an excellent player from another team to fill the 8th spot. With our team’s enormous hole plugged by a talented player, we began to click. We won both games easily by 11-3 scores. What a difference having 8 good players made!! Without a hole to cover, we learned to lay off shots we could barely get to. Everyone played their position and our team got hot!

So now we had foolishly lived to play another game. Despite all our grumbling about throwing the next game, the moment Nakia and I entered the muddy water, some bizarre Will to Win would mysteriously overcome us. I imagine the poor, miserable men who won the Revolutionary War went through similar mind games.

As we waited on the bleachers for Match 4, Nakia and I now fully expected to win several more games after our excellent victory in the previous game. At this point, something strange was happening in my brain. I had actually enjoyed playing the previous game. With time on my hands, I looked around and noticed that as teams got eliminated, some of the mud pits were not being used. Players from the eliminated teams began jumping in the open pits and starting playing pick-up games. To my astonishment, I felt drawn to join them. Only my need to conserve energy and my desire to watch my bag with its expensive video camera prevented me from joining them. I realized once you got the hang of this, Mud Volleyball could be FUN! I was stunned at this revelation. I couldn’t wait to play the next game!! I was pumped!

Then bad luck struck again. The referees discovered both teams were in the area. Their job was to get the games in as fast as possible. It didn’t matter that we weren’t scheduled to begin for 10 more minutes. In their minds, the teams are here so let’s get it on. They ordered us to begin play. The only problem was our excellent 8th man was still playing for his regular team in another mud pit. If we had started on time, his game would have been over and he could have joined us. No such luck. It would have looked very suspicious to have this dripping, muddy guy suddenly show up in the middle of the match. We had to play 7 again.

So we did our best, but now we had to lunge for balls again and watch other balls hit the empty spot where there was no player at all. The other team wasn’t stupid – they knew where the holes were and had the nerve to aim at them. I played lousy too. I got overconfident and actually thought I could spike a couple, but the ball was so wet it never went where I aimed. We played both games close, but went down to a good team 2 straight. The Magnificent Seven stumbled. We were eliminated.

I cleaned off and trudged home. As I drove down I-10, I fumed at how good we could have been. Both losses were narrow and could easily have been reversed had we played at full strength. The one game where we had 8 good players, we were awesome. “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda” was the day’s fight song. I was a Mud Dud.

Next year I want the Backyard Gang to field a team, maybe even two teams!! The tournament has 112 teams. Our goal will be to meet in the Finals. I have to tell you, 8 solid players from our Backyard Gang would have made it VERY far into this tournament. There were no teams I saw that we couldn’t have handled. My guess is there might have been a few teams with 8 actual volleyball players somewhere, but I never saw them. Or maybe the mud hid their talents. However, based on what I saw, the Backyard Gang would have made a formidable opponent for anyone. Plus we would have had a ball going into battle together!! The mud would have bonded us together…perhaps even permanently!

I want Revenge. Next year, we take Pasadena!! Circle the third Saturday in May, 2001, on your calendar right now. We can advertise our match at the dance studio and have people come to root for us and throw dirt balls at the other team. We can videotape the games and make a big documentary about our triumphant juggernaut. We will Twostep into the Mud Pits and call ourselves the “Urban Mud Volleyball Cowboys.” Sounds catchy.


So I spend an entire year organizing my Backyard friends into two teams to participate in this year's tournament. I figured at least one of the teams, maybe both, would go deep into the tournament since we had a lot of pretty darn good players, including our ladies who are excellent athletes. 

We divided into two teams, cleverly named Team Red and Team Black. 

Team Red was probably our better team. Captained by our superstar John Paliatsos, this team also featured our second and third best spikers, Chris Quinn and Len Messina, our best defensive player, Hung Nguyen, our best setter, Michael Brockmyre, and our two best woman players, Mo Hendrix and Nakia Harrison. Rocky Kneten, no slouch at volleyball himself, rounded out this formidable team. 

Team Black, captained by Reza Taherian, was also pretty good. Here we had our "Veterans" as we so delicately referred to ourselves. Included on the team was Mike Gerstenberger and Louis Farmacka, Deepak Jain, Rodrigo Aranda, YJ Pu, Brent Barker, myself, plus Shirley Grossestreuer and Gillian Tilbury. And I must say Shirley and Gillian "rounded out" our team very nicely! 

Although I imagine on land Team Red would have beaten us, I have to say Team Black was also very good. In fact, on paper, we looked terrific. Both teams were expected to kick serious butt all day long. 

Bad Omens

Then things started to go wrong. Nakia broke her hand. Talented woman volleyball players who are willing to get in the mud are about as common as the Adominable Snowman. Losing Nakia was a huge blow, but at the last minute former SSQQ Staffer Angela Alvarado agreed to drive all the way from San Antonio to take Nakia's place. 

Big Smooch for Angela!!

Then Shirley nearly decapitated her hand in a library accident (go figure) involving a book cart or something. The doctor told her not to play, but I begged and begged and finally Shirley relented. The "Kerri Strug" Award for valor beyond the call of duty goes to Shirley who played despite a hand so purple and swollen it looked like it belonged to Barney. 

Then Brent Barker got sick and couldn't play. His height and swimming background would have made him a valuable asset. But the worst blow of all came when our Superstar, John Paliatsos, got sick with stomach poisoning. Losing him was a big blow - he is practically a one-man team when he gets rolling. 

Nevertheless, even despite the losses of three key players we still had a lot of talent. We moved Deepak Jain from Black to Red and went into the Mud with two solid 8-men/women teams. We still expected to kick butt. 

So naturally both teams immediately lost their first match. 

Most of our players had never played a Mud Volleyball game before. They were very surprised to find that Mud Volleyball is a much different game than Land Volleyball. Quite frankly, it is more a game of strength than finesse. First, the ball is so difficult to control because it is wet and slippery that ball handling is a bad idea - the best strategy is just to hit it back over. Second, the ball is very heavy. Upper body strength is very important. It wasn't an accident that there were big, beefy football players and body builders all over the place. I imagine they thrive at a game like this. It took our players quite a while to adjust to this and it cost both teams their first match. 

The Story of the Tournament


The Black Team played our first match against the Mud Crawlers. They won the first set and we won the second. In the third and final set, their best player nailed 7 points on us with his great spike serve. Our net was very low and his serve was very accurate straight down the line. What can I say? It was too big of a hole to climb out of. What a great way to start the day. I felt disgusted.

Since our game ended at 9:30, we went to watch our compatriots play. They won the first set in overtime, but then dropped the next two. Boy, were they in a bad mood! 

To make matters worse, now both teams had to wait two hours till our next match. Two hours to stew about it. The mood in our canopy tent was pretty glum.

Since our losses put both teams in the Loser's Bracket, this meant for our next games we would face teams that had also lost. 


In Round Two, SSQQ Red apparently won their match handily. 

So did Team Black. In our second Match of the day, we went up against the Amazing Mud Duds. The Mud Duds (half the teams in the tournament seemed to have the word "Mud" in it) were actually not very 'Amazing' at all. They must have sensed their chances weren't too good as shown by their odd team name. I might add we expected to win a lot because we made our team name a lot more colorful. 

The Amazing Mud Duds were so bad we won the first game 11-0. In the Second game, the other team screamed with uncontrollable glee when they scored their first point. We had to grin in spite of ourselves. 

I felt so sorry for the Mud Duds, I actually talked the referee into giving them the benefit of the doubt on two calls she was about to make against them. It is easy to be a good sport when the consequences are so negligible. SSQQ Black won 11-4. 

Now the mood in the tent was considerably lighter. Both teams had won a game. We felt a little more like we belonged here. We would play again in 30 minutes.


SSQQ Black met the Doomsday Machine in our third match. The Doomsday Machine was a good team that had also won once and lost once. We beat them in a closely contested match by scores around 11-7 or 9-6. We got out to a lead in both games, but they seemed to crawl back towards the end in both games. This was a very satisfying victory since we clearly were starting to hit our stride. Incidentally, not all games ended at 11 points. The rule was 11 points or 10 minutes. The idea was to get the three sets over in 30 minutes. This 10-minute rule was to come back and haunt us!

Louis Farmacka and Mike Gerstenberger were good from the start… and I suppose I helped too. It helped a lot that the three of us had played before. We were the most aggressive players on our team because we had the right shoes (rubber cleats), we knew to keep our feet moving (if you stood still too long, your shoe would get stuck in the mud), and we knew we had to use two hands for every shot if possible. Everyone else was learning the hard way. However by this third game, there were no more rookies. Everyone started to contribute. Shirley and Gillian gained confidence, and Reza, YJ, and Rodrigo also showed they were getting the hang of it. We looked good against a good team. 

Alas, SSQQ Red lost their third match. When my team met them at the tent, they were an angry bunch. Apparently they had lost by the narrowest of margins. They told me the wind had picked up and immediately afterwards 8 shots in a row had barely missed crossing the net. (I remember that wind - it caused a number of shots to suddenly dip in front of us during our game). The frustration of these near misses was pretty evident. They bitterly blamed the Wind God for their loss. Michael Brockmyre, Rocky Kneten, and Len Messina were the most disgusted. They looked ready to hit anything or anyone who provoked them. I quickly offered each a cheese stick. Chris Quinn, Deepak Jain, Mo Hendrix, Angela Alvarado, and Hung Nguyen seemed a little more philosophical, but all five had that wrinkled smile people wear when they are disappointed. It is one thing to lose to a better team, but in this case Team Red thought they were the better team in both of their loses. This aggravated the heck out of them. As I said, very few people go home happy. 

Actually Rodrigo Aranda didn't go home unhappy - he had to go home to take care of his kid. So Michael Brockmyre switched to our team to take his place. Deepak Jain also asked to rejoin us, so his friend Reza graciously stayed out of the water to concentrate on his coaching duties. Deepak had originally been on our team, but we loaned him to the Red Team when John couldn't make it. Our team really began to click with the addition of these players. 


In the 4th Match of the day, we were reunited with our conquerors from the morning, the Mud Crawlers. Their Superstar was back, a slender young man about 21 years old. Having been aced by him seven times in our first match, Reza warned the whole team to be on guard against him. He had gone straight down the line against us in the first game, so we put Deepak Jain in the deep corner while I guarded the line too. I don't think he got one point against in the rematch. Thank Coach Reza for the coaching tip. 

In the Re-match, we nailed the Mud Crawlers two straight. They were never in the game. Revenge was ours. How very satisfying because our victory put them out the tournament. I am sure they went home mad. Everyone goes home mad.


We didn't have long to wait for our 5th Match. We went right back in the water. Our opponent, The Dirty Dozen, was rumored to be a former champion of this tournament. Sizing up the players, they didn't look that dangerous. 

In fact we won the first game handily, 9-3. I figured we had them. Then we changed sides. Big difference!! The other side was at least 6 inches deeper which really hindered our mobility. We lost a nail-biter 9-7. There was a badass guy on their team who liked to "accidentally" throw the ball out of bounds whenever they had to return the ball to let us serve. I was told this is a strategy some players use when their team has the lead because it eats up extra time the other team might need for a comeback. Can you believe some people take this more seriously than I do? This redneck guy with the tattoo actually did this very thing on three different occasions, so I doubt it was an accident. Precious minutes ticked off while one of us had to crawl out of the mud pit and go chase the ball down. He was the only person I took a genuine dislike to during the entire tournament. 

However I figured since we had won the coin flip for the first game and chosen the side, we would get the good side for our third game. Uh oh. Apparently you flip again for the grudge match. Hmm. They won and actually started cheering. The Dirty Dozen realized the significance of the good side/bad side just as much as we did. 

They got out to an early lead, and then Mr. Badass started to throw the ball away hoping to burn some precious time. I remember barely missing a couple shots as well. This was a very tense match and we definitely felt the pressure of being behind with time running out. The final score was something like 11-6. I know I was burning mad when we lost. 


We probably would have won this match if we had won the "good side". But instead we went home mad. At least I know I did. 

I was starting to get into the tournament and I wanted to go further. As it was, Team Black bowed out with 3 wins and 2 losses. Team Red must be super-irritated, finishing a disappointing 1-2. 

I went home filthy, sore, and sunburned. All I could do was obsess on what might have happened if we had gotten the shallow side. People have told me I have a shallow personality, but now I understand what they are talking about.

 It was all I could think about. Shoulda coulda woulda won if we had the shallow end. 

We were in too deep. Sounds like a western song. Maybe we can get George Strait to sing it!

You can assume we will be back next year. 

Count on it. 

No One Goes Home Happy.

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