The Spirit of the Game - October 2012

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The Spirit of the Game - October 2012

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Mon Oct 15, 2012 10:13 am

Written by Gadreille


"NWC"


The whistle blew, and Ellie dove into the rectangular pool. The water rushed into her thin blue helmet, drenching her auburn hair. As a center player for the Jonques, she was rarely outside of the deeps, a six meter section in the middle of the pool that was approximately four meters deep. This section gradually became shallow on either end, leaving about ten meters of shallow water on either side, where the nets hung high above the side of the pool. Ellie’s job in the deeps was to get the ball at all costs; whether she had to steal it, chase it, or catch it. Once it was hers, she had to get it out of the deeps, preferably to the opposing team’s shallows. She was the go-to player between the two guards who defended their net, and the two forwards who tried to score on the opposing team.

The pool was about twelve meters in width, and her dive took her about a quarter ways across. Being strictly in the deeps, she was permitted to wear goggles, something the other four players were not granted. She looked beyond, and noticed the Minnows’ center whose blue body suit read TENG was surfacing early. His shaven head crested the surface, powerful arms moving in a breaststroke in a genius attempt to get to the ball faster. What he didn’t know was that Ellie was one of the fastest underwater swimmers currently playing in the Collegiate Waterbasketball Championships, CWC.

Ellie butterflied into position below the bright yellow ball and then thrust upward from the bottom of the pool. Her yellow body suit clung to her body, and she was grateful for it. As a kid she would play in clothes because swimsuits were too flimsy. When she finally joined a team she rejoiced at their professional swimwear. The one piece suit fit like a snug tank top and covered her down to mid-thigh. On the back was her last name in bold lettering, DAKOTA, and on the front, a gorgeous sailing ship that their team was named after. Her feet scraped the bottom as she pushed off, but years of practice had awarded her with strong feet that did not tear. It was helpful when she was forced out of the deeps and into the shallows. The other four players wore protective shoes, something that Ellie opted not to wear. It slowed her down just a fraction of a second, but it was enough to give her a positive edge in the game. If she was going to go pro, she needed every edge she could get.

Ellie burst from the water, wrapping her arms around the yellow ball before throwing her feet before her and backkicking away from Teng. She looked to the left to see if her teammates were in position; it was a mere glance but Josson looked open, so she halted her backkick, pivoted her legs beneath her and moved her legs eggbeater style. She lifted out of the water almost to her belly button, and at the crest of the lift Ellie tossed the ball with all her might toward the open player. The ball left her hands just before Teng reached her. She and he both took off toward his team’s shallows, halting at the blue line, unable to go any farther. The only time a center could leave the deeps was when a player was on the sides for a penalty.

The tall blonde Josson went for the shot, but the ball bounced off of the backboard and flew back into the pool. The Minnows’ guard, a burly man whose suit read MARIO, grabbed it and tossed it out to the deeps, to the right of Teng. Ellie took off after him reaching out and grabbing his shoed foot to pull him backward and her forward. This sort of grappling was only allowed in the deeps, and it was her greatest downfall. On occasion when she was forced to the shallows, she was always getting penalized for over aggressive play. In the deeps however…it was nearly free rein. Most kinds of grappling were permitted so long as the opposing player had the ball in hand. Punching, kicking, and purposeful slamming to the pool sides were really the only kinds of aggressive play not permitted while in the deeps. She was guilty for these too.

Unfortunately even with this freedom she couldn’t always win. Teng already had the ball in hand, so when she yanked him back, he flipped underneath her and surfaced behind, sending the ball toward one of his forwards in the Jonque shallows. She cursed herself for not being fast enough, and paddled toward the opposite line. The curly-haired forward, whose suit read LEVITZ, jumped and arched the ball toward the basketball net. Her own team’s guard didn’t even have a chance to block. The scoreboard lit up 0:2 and the ball was given to the Jonques for takeout.

All of the players moved to the deeps, as was required. Their forward Erickson moved to the side to toss the ball in, and Ellie found Teng moving in to block her from Erickson’s shot. She backed up clear to the opposite side of the pool, and then pushed off to try and move ahead of him. He was too fast, however, and she found herself unable to free herself from his shadow. The ball was passed to one of the guards, Petto, who made a feeble attempt to pass it to the other forward, Josson, but not before the entire Minnows team barreled down on him. In mere moments there was chaos as both teams rushed in, each trying to keep the other from the ball. Grappling was only allowed with the ball in hand, but as one player latched onto another, it cascaded into a chain reaction of interlocking bodies as each struggled to get to the bright yellow prize in the middle.

Ellie noticed her guard go under, a potentially dangerous legal move played by a Minnows guard, MOORE. Holding a player under until they break free or release the ball was technically not a foul. However, with both teams centered on getting the ball, it became hard for the referees to determine who exactly had the ball. Often illegal grappling would happen without ever gaining the ref’s notice. Ellie was well aware of it, as she moved forward to pull Moore off of Petto but was pushed under by another player before her hands had even touched Moore. The referee didn’t catch it. When she resurfaced, she brought her elbow up into Moore’s face in anger before he could sink her again. A whistle rang out from the pool side.

Now the ref is looking, Ellie thought with an internal scream, and she swam to the side to sit out the next two minutes. The game had only begun and she was already on the side. What was worse is they were already down a point, and this just opened the door for them to go on a losing streak. Ellie bent over in frustration, but she didn’t even have time to put her face in her hands before Coach was at her side. She glanced up at him for a moment but then looked away. She couldn’t meet his gaze.

“What was that, Dakota?” He practically screamed, thrusting his hand out toward the pool, where the game had just resumed.

“He was on my back, Coach. The ref missed it.” She tried not to sound overly defensive, as she had been in the past.

“So you are a ref now, are you? Where’s my center? Save your aggression for the player with the ball, Dakota.”

“Yea, I got it,” Ellie said, irritation in her voice.

“No, Ellie, you don’t got it,” Coach replied, and this time, his tone was softer. She looked up at him again, this time into the dark brown eyes that were obscured by the white hat he wore over his salt and pepper curls.

He nodded his head toward the stands, where the audience was cheering down at them. “There’re recruiters out there today. I didn’t tell the team because you all didn’t need the pressure, but I know you, Ellie. I know you are thinking pro. You need to get your head in the game if you want to have a chance to sign on with the Pelicans or the Clippers. You gonna do NWC? Act like it.”

Ellie’s heart stopped. The Pelicans and the Clippers were the two nearest National Waterbasketball Championship teams. The game she was playing wasn’t even playoffs, she hadn’t even considered that a professional recruiter would be among the crowd. She’d already made a fool of herself, how could she possibly have a chance?

The buzzer sounded, and Ellie cringed as the Minnows scored again. There was no surprise there. It was all a part of the game, though no rule book would tell you so. Take out a center; it’s practically giving them a free throw. The deeps are too wide, and the other members too used to the shallows to be able to do anything but defend.

The seconds on her timer counted down slowly. Surely it had been two minutes already! There was no possible way there could still be fifty-six seconds until she could get back in the game. The Jonques took out again, but it was futile. Every member was covered, and there was no one in the deeps to swim for a long throw. The Minnows had the ball within seconds. Fifty-one seconds left…

Her guards managed to extract the ball from the other team. They tossed it to the deeps, where Josson was treading while Erickson tried to keep clear of the opposite teams two guards. It was illegal to toss the ball from one shallow to the other, but her Josson was no center, and Teng was already on him. They had no chance of getting the ball into offensive position. Forty-eight seconds…

The ball quickly moved back towards the Jonques net, but her guards put up quite a fight. Spindly, brown-haired Bishop blocked Levitz from a clear shot, grabbing the ball mid-air with an amazing lunge. As soon as the ball was in Bishop’s grasp, Levitz took Bishop down. Ellie could feel the crowd hold their breath as Bishop struggled to surface. There was a collective moan from the crowd as the ball popped up just before Bishop thrust his head out to breathe. He must have gotten caught on an exhale. It was another dirty trick that they didn’t teach you while playing little league. Thirty-two seconds…

Levitz caught the ball and tossed it to his partner whose suit read KERR. Ellie groaned inwardly. The girl was an amazing shot. Height didn’t have as much to do with this game as the land-based version, but generally, the forwards were tall. Kerr wasn’t tall at all – the redhead’s torso was halfway submerged in the meter deep shallows. It was no mistake though that the yellow ball arched half way across the shallows and landed straight in the basket, with nothing but net. That girl was accurate. The points were racking up fast. Twenty-three seconds…

The Jonques took out again, again without their center. This time it was Petto, the guard, who dove in her place. It was a smart move. Last time they had played it safe, using Erickson from the offense. They were trying to keep their defense up while down a man. This time, however, they were going all out. They needed to keep the ball in the enemy’s court. Petto dove in, but Teng was too fast. He was at the ball in seconds, ready to swim toward the basket. Suddenly he was pulled under, and Ellie cheered with the rest of the crowd as Teng struggled to resurface with the ball in hand. It was no use, Petto’s grip was tight, and it was not Teng but Petto who surfaced, ball in hand. Petto immediately tossed it in the other direction, and remained wading in the deeps rather than returning to his position. Ten seconds…

Another cluster in the shallows, Ellie couldn’t make out the details. Seven seconds…Suddenly, the whistle blew; Moore was called out for grappling an unhanded player. Ellie smiled as she saw him pull up onto the side, and his timer set for two minutes. This is going to even the odds, she thought. Three. Two. One. Let’s do this.

A bell rang, and Ellie dove back into the water.

Kathryn Lacey
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