Volleyball Smackdown

November 19, 2009 

Every job has its occupational hazards, which can range from carpal tunnel syndrome and a fat butt to deaths of varying discomfort. Even something that sounds safe and fun, say making pictures for a living, has its own risks.

"Duh," you might have just said aloud, remembering horror stories of photojournalists' fatalities past. Helicopters colliding and war photojournalists come quickly to mind, but danger is a sneaky bastard who is quick to crash your party as soon as you've let your guard down.

Last Saturday, I went to cover the 3A and 2A state championship volleyball games at the Toyota Center. Having shot a fair amount of volleyball recently, I wasn't too amped with the assignment. It didn't help that we didn’t have any local teams in the running and that I was working the rear end of a split shift after working until nearly midnight to produce galleries for Hanford's loss and Kamiakin's win the night before. Plus, the games were delayed, prolonging an already long day, and were being held at the same time on opposite ends of the floor, resulting a a lot of scuttling around and bird-like head bobbing to try and see the other game's tiny scoreboard.

Drunk off my whine yet?

My grumbles grew louder while shooting the 3A match between Mount Spokane and Bishop Blanchet. I was kneeling about 4/5ths of the way back from the net between two courts, shooting low to try and get some diving dig shots. After snapping one, I checked the back of my camera to see how sharp it was when a wide spike from the other court smacked me in the face. My glasses went flying as I processed what had just happened, swearing when I realized my the frame of my glasses had cracked and my right lens was missing.

I heard somebody apologize to me and looked up to see a WIAA official handing my lens back to me. I told him it wasn't his fault, placed the lens back in and went back to shooting from the same spot. After all, what were the chances another wild spike would fly the same way? Before I could find out, I felt a warm trickle on my cheek.

"No way," I thought when I touched it and saw blood on my hand. After all, if I had to choose a sporting ball to hit me in the face, volleyball is firmly atop a list populated with potentially killer hockey pucks and baseballs.

I turned around to talk to the official who had apologized to see if there was any first aid available. I figured the WIAA would be pretty strict about the possibility of blood dripping onto the floor and I definitely didn't want to delay the tournament any further. As I approached, however, he simply deadpanned, "You're bleeding."

I thought about jumping up and down in excitement, yelling, "Blood? That means I'm a real boy now!" Instead, I waited for further instructions, something along the lines of, "Come this way, let's get you cleaned up," or "Go talk to that guy, he'll take you to the first aid kit."

All I got was an awkward pause.

"...So...are there any napkins or something around here?" I finally asked.

"I think there’s a bathroom over there," he said.

Of course, I had to get some shots in the mirror before cleaning up:

After this little incident, I was further determined to get some good shots, lack of local teams be damned. I selectively grabbed some more CYA shots of spikes, blocks and digs before waiting for some jube (jubilation) shots. Since volleyball players celebrate every point, it's not hard to get some decent cheering images. What's tougher is to find a good angle to juxtapose the happy winners alongside the dejected losers. I had shot a version of this during Shadle Park's 3A state win over Eastside Catholic last year:

It's a little loose, though, and I wanted to try and get something similar this year on the winning point with a longer lens to clean up the messy background and compress the spacing. I managed to grab one during the 2A game after Archbishop Murphy scored on Pullman:

And another version after Archbishop Murphy came back to force a fifth game:

I hustled back to the other side, but since the 3A final between Mount Spokane and Bishop Blanchet wasn't very close, I decided to save my effort for the 2A game. When Bishop Blanchet completed its 3-1 victory, I shot a safe and easy jube:

before running back to the other side to catch the end of the 2A game, hoping that Archbishop Murphy would complete their comeback to win the title. Waiting to get these shots that juxtapose the thrill and agony of competitive sport makes me about as anxious as any photographic task, and knowing I had a couple serviceable shots if Archbishop Murphy won made me feel a little better. I haven't had the best luck at anticipating the best angle to get these shots and it's tough to predict how the players will react. Sometimes it comes together even in a very lopsided game, such as when Richland's Kayla Deen, left, celebrated teammate Martha Sanford's goal with her last September as Kennewick's Alexis Rutz walks dejectedly by during Richland's 12-0 win over Kennewick:

or this shot of Archbishop Murphy celebrating its 50-35 win over Prosser at the state basketball championships in March, which snagged me 3rd place in the non-metro category of the 2009 Washington/Oregon AP photo contest:

Neither of those quite match up to some of the numerous prime examples I've seen, however, mostly because they were such lopsided victories. It's tough to be too emotionally crushed when your impending loss is all but certain well before the end of the game. I had high hopes for this 2A volleyball matchup, though, especially after seeing how excited Archbishop Murphy had been after fighting their way back. So when it looked like Pullman was going to win, I wasn't too disappointed about the other two shots becoming worthless since I figured Archbishop Murphy would be absolutely crushed after coming so close.

I suppose that I should have figured otherwise, especially on a day when I had already been smacked in the face, and none of my best three versions were any good:

Immediately after a win, there's always a lot going on, but my first thought as the final score approaches is to figure out a point of focus. Without a local team in the mix, I opted for the winners. As I try to keep the happy celebration largely unobstructed, I then try to find the element of dejection in the foreground. There's a hint of it here, as the Pullman bench players rush their teammates:

But this frame has too much negative space for the minimally effective emotions to anchor, and the cleaned up tighter shot I grabbed after that lacked any real dejection at all. In fact, it almost looks like the girl in the foreground is smiling:

Sadly, I had to settle on a shot of Pullman's Whitnie Whitman giving coach Dave Weitz a celebratory high five:

The cosmic slap in the face left me feeling like my injury had been for naught, but was a nice reminder to stay frosty even when danger isn't apparent. It also could have been much worse. An inch to the left and that scratch could have messed up my eye. My hope is that I at least got a halfway decent story out of the deal.


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