Men's Volleyball Team Takes On ATLIB
By Cole Hamilton
“Losing has never tasted so good,” said first-year student Jardim Espat jokingly while we
cherished ice cream and air conditioning after the ATLIB volleyball regional tournament in San
John Paul II Junior College was represented by ten of our students as we played against
The University of Belize (UB), Galen University, and Sacred Heart Junior College in the round-robin tournament. After just over a month of practice, the young men from JPII found themselves face-to-face with some of the best volleyball players in Belize. We were underdogs in skill, experience, and height, most of which became apparent in just watching the other teams warm up. “We’re here to try our best,” were my honest thoughts as I turned in our team roster as the head coach. Game on.
As we started our first match against Sacred Heart, our players struggled to overcome their nerves. Their energy and desire to win was apparent, but they slipped in some of their technique and showed visible signs of frustration as Sacred Heart’s lead grew. “Breathe,” I said during our first timeout; we were already down about fifteen points. Even as we improved our play, the opposing team continued to dominate on both offense and defense. 1st set: loss. The 2nd set had a similar outcome as the team struggled to find a rhythm. As we the coaches tried to debrief the game to the somewhat battered team, Father Tony came and met us in our huddle after catching the tail end of the last game.
“You guys are fighters,” he said with a slight smile.
“You’re going up against giants but are still putting up a fight.”
Still processing the loss, we bowed our heads as Padre blessed us, and then we moved to the bleachers to rest before our next game.
Second match: Galen University. We had briefly watched Galen play UB and knew that they were fully capable of sweeping our team with ease. The JPII boys, however, began encouraging each other by saying things like, “Let’s worry about our game,” and “That guy’s not that big,” even though he was probably about a foot taller than each of them. We started the game down about 16 points, another tough start. The difference with this game, though, was that the students were building each other up, laughing at each other on the court, and celebrating every point they earned. After calling a timeout to regroup, JPII went out and earned a few points in a row… then a few more… then a few more after that.
With each consecutive point, the excitement grew more and more. Before I knew it, I was jumping up and down with the other missionary coaches and players as we couldn’t be stopped. I glanced at the scoreboard in disbelief when I saw 22-16; we had gone on a ten-point run and were only down six points. Galen quickly called a timeout as their coach furiously called his team into a huddle. On
our side of the court, we celebrated like we had just won the World Cup. Our huddle was all smiles, laughs, and energy as we encouraged the men to keep it up. We still lost that set and the next against Galen, but the players couldn’t stop smiling even as the game slipped back into Galen’s grasp.
“We were like dogs wanting to win,”
said team captain Destin Leslie, a second-year business student at JPII as he reflected on the day. “The team had open ears and were easy to lead, both from the coaches and myself. We set ourselves up to win in the future. The players recognized their mistakes and were able to not be mad about them.”
We lost all sets and all games that day, but the “dogs wanting to win” held their heads high as they left the tournament. Spirits were soaring as the players acknowledged how they had struck noticeable blows against the giants from Sacred Heart, Galen, and UB, and they yearned with eager anticipation to battle again as a team. The energy, spirit, and camaraderie the team brought and grew into was a force to be reckoned with. I agreed with Jardim: losing never tasted better. There was more sweetness and richness than what was in the ice cream, though. Win or lose, these JPII students knew that they had grown that day. They knew that they were worth more than just an outcome of a game; their attitude said it all. They showed, as a team united in brotherhood, that they were made for more. That was the only victory that mattered.