She don't give a damn what the other girls say
She lifted her arms and she floated away
--Husker Du, a rock group
By the time she reached the free throw line, wearing the beat up tennis shoes she hoped would keep her out of the game, Elaine Youngs realized she had run herself right out of space and time. Frightened, bankrupt of options and patience, she saw there was nowhere to go but up, and so, she jumped.
She glided so high and so strong for so long that Greg Yeck, her El Toro High School coach, slithered from his chair toward the floor, awe-struck that this sophomore girl who had walked through her first basketball practice only that morning, would dunk a basketball.
"I said to myself, 'Oh my God, this can't be happening,' " he said.
It didn't. Youngs cupped the ball, flipped it up and into the basket. She said she had no intention of dunking. She said she had no intentions at all, except of staying out of the game, thus, the shabby shoes, which she hoped would discourage her coach from putting her in. What she did on the court that day or why she did it is an absolute mystery to her.
And so it goes.
There is one thing the best female prep athlete in Orange County this year, cannot do, and that is explain herself.
How does a sophomore, with two whole weeks of formal volleyball training behind her, play so well as to draw inquiries from USC and UCLA?
How does the same sophomore, with the same experience in basketball as volleyball, start on the varsity and, a year later, draw comparisons to Cheryl Miller?
What makes her yell at her teammates?
Why does she give players such as Mission Viejo's Tricia Stringham the feeling that, "Elaine, at any moment, is going to turn around and punch me in the face."
The answer to all these may lie somewhere inside of Elaine Youngs, now a senior, but she has neither the time nor the interest right now to search for them.
"I really don't think about what I'm doing, I just do it," she said. "After it's done, it's done."
But she's far from done. She'll attend UCLA next year and play both volleyball and basketball . . . and did someone say Olympics?
Charlie Brande, Orange County volleyball guru, is already on record as saying that Youngs should skip college volleyball and go directly to the U.S. National Team.
"If she doesn't, she's wasting her time," he said.
Mike Thornton, Marina girls' basketball coach, thinks Youngs could make it as a basketball player.
"If she would have devoted all her time to basketball, I really think she'd be in a Cheryl Miller class," he said.
This year in the county, she's in a class by herself. She is 6-feet tall, with broad square shoulders and long legs.
"All you do is look at her and you know this is a great athlete," said John Reid, Esperanza volleyball coach.
She's been named all-Southern Section in volleyball since she was a sophomore, and she was named a high school all-American this year. She was all Southern Section last season in basketball, averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. She will undoubtedly earn the same honor this season and, at center, is without a doubt, Orange County's top girls' basketball player.
"It's not even close," said John Hattrup, Brea-Olinda assistant coach.
The reason is pure athleticism. As Hattrup put so succinctly last year, "she can jump like a lizard and run like a deer."
And so the question of nature, Elaine Youngs', remains.
Carolyn Youngs, Elaine's mother, surmises that her daughter's great talent and her temper were borne out on the street outside the family home, where Elaine learned about sports with her four brothers and their friends.
"She never learned how to play like a girl," Carolyn Youngs said.
Though it doesn't account for her talent, it may say something about her demeanor.
"Elaine doesn't play sports like most girls and that upsets some people," said Jess Money, a writer for Volleyball Monthly. "She's mean, she's aggressive, she talks a lot, she's cocky. I've always thought that football would be the best sport for her."
Growing up, Elaine played wide receiver every week when the guys got together to play football.
Today some say she plays "too hard."
It's nothing they haven't heard at El Toro.
"There are some people who would rather girls' sports go back to the days of GAA," Yeck said. "When everyone was nice, and in it for the fun and the punch and cookies. Someone like Elaine really grates against that."
Youngs said: "How do you play too hard? I play the only way I know how. I know that makes some girls angry, but I'm not going to apologize for it.
"There are girls out there who want to play sports with their nails done and with lipstick and make up and they don't want to mess up their hair. They're airheads. They don't know what it takes. I tell them, 'If that's what you want, why don't go try out for the cheerleading team.' "