All great teams have one thing in common: a great bench.
Obviously, champions also have talented players and smart coaches, but I think a complete squad with a dedicated scout team will always have a better chance of winning because they’re always going to be more prepared, and better supported.
The No. 1 Long Beach State men’s volleyball team is a perfect example. The 49ers have five All-Americans and the coach of the year in Alan Knipe, but they’ll all tell you that the Beach bench is as responsible for their success as anything else.
“They make us better,” Knipe said of his scout team. “They cause fits for our first team every single day in practice.”
The second-string unit calls themselves The Kitchen where they cook up the opponents’ game plan, and give the first-string unit a realistic look at what they’ll see in the upcoming matches. In fact, some of the practices we’ve seen have been more intense than some matches this season. The Kitchen isn’t afraid to get in the face of some of the best volleyball players in the nation.
“They take a lot of pride in the volleyball players they are,” Knipe said. “And they take a lot of pride in the role they’re asked to perform for our team to be successful. And then when it comes time to all be on one side, then they just do nothing but support and be ready to come in.”
The Kitchen was in full effect two weeks ago during the Big West Conference Tournament at Walter Pyramid. They started chants for the crowd before serves, encouraged their teammates during timeouts and celebrated every point with rehearsed routines and joyous leaps in the air. Sometimes they’re as much fun to watch as the match.
“They create that energy, and that energy has been so important to us,” Knipe said. “At home it’s a little easier to generate that emotion, but when you’re on the road it’s nice to have a group of guys down there that aren’t afraid to let everyone in the gym know that they’re here to support the other guys in black and gold.”
LBSU senior Matt Butler is the head chef in The Kitchen. The setter won a CIF championship at Huntington Beach High with teammates and national players of the year TJ DeFalco and Josh Tuaniga. Butler was named CIF player of the year as a senior, and instead of pouting that he didn’t get to start at LBSU, Butler redshirted and changed positions to libero to help his team.
“He’s our leader,” Knipe said. “He has no ego whatsoever about himself. It’s all about his team. And it’s hard if you’re in that group, when you have this senior leader like Matt showing the way, to not fall in line and do it that way.”
The first great bench bunch I wrote about was the 2012 CIF-SS champion Millikan boys’ soccer team, and Tony Alcala’s Lab Rats who could’ve won the Moore League themselves that season. Instead they made their first-sting teammates the best team in CIF-SS.
“The lab rats always beat the first team,” Millikan coach Rod Petkovic said. “They were the reason we won that championship because they had the team ready for every playoff game.”
I felt so validated when I wrote that story because I too have been a lab rat in the kitchen, but not as gross.
I’ve played a lot of sports, and I’ve been average at all of them. As the sophomore quarterback of my junior varsity football team, I was also the scout team quarterback for the varsity defense. My friend Travis Clark and I decided to be Scouts 4 Life, or SFL, and take our job seriously.
We would study our upcoming opponents and dress like them while running their plays as realistically as possible. Of course, I always got made fun of when I would try to impersonate a mobile quarterback, but those Scouts 4 Life days are some of my fondest sports memories.
Candidly, that made our JV team a lot better as well. The experience improved out team chemistry, and chemistry is a real thing. The common misconception is that you have chemistry, or you don’t. The fact is that team chemistry can be procured with work in the lab and overall unselfishness.
A team without chemistry is an incomplete team, and that starts and ends with the players on the bench. Or as Knipe said, “A team where there’s (bench) guys standing around with their arms crossed isn’t going to get anywhere.”