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New Role for Volleyball Star: From Spectacular to Spectator


Last week's Hermosa Open was clearly agonizing for Jackie Silva. Clad in beige knee-length shorts and a white shirt, the Brazilian volleyball standout watched the center-court action from a nearby lounge chair under a large umbrella.

It was an unfamiliar situation for the Redondo Beach resident, who is used to winning such events. With various partners, Silva has been a dominant force on the Women's Professional Volleyball Assn. tour, winning 38 of 50 tournaments since the WPVA was formed in 1987. Last year she won 12 of the 16 events, including the Hermosa Open with partner Janice Opalinski-Harrer.

For the first time in her volleyball career, Silva was a spectator last week. A shoulder injury has prevented the former Olympian and Brazilian national team member from competing on the 1991 tour, which started April 6 in Austin, Tex. As a result, the 29-year-old says she has been frustrated and somewhat depressed.

"It was tough . . . ," Silva said with a thick Brazilian accent. "I never been on the beach and watch volleyball tournament. I never do that . . . . I felt too many things. It was very hard not playing."

At the end of the day, when the tournament's last consolation match ended and the crowd dispersed, Silva played in a pickup game with WPVA Executive Director Roxana Vargas. They served softly and laughed at missed shots. Silva says it was therapeutic.

"I really love the game. The only thing I really know how to do is play volleyball. . . . You know, watching those players I can see they got so much better. It make me realize it's going to be real hard for me to get back into that game."

Besides having a lot of spare time, Silva also has no income. She used to train year-round, up to eight hours a day, before getting hurt. In 1990 she earned $47,100 in prize money alone during the five-month season. In addition to being the WPVA's all-time money leader ($98,154.50), Silva made a living playing indoors in Italy during the winter.

"It's very hard for her because she's dealing with injuries that are taking a long time to heal," said Karolyn Kirby, one of Silva's partners last year.

Silva says the problems started midway through the 1990 season. Her right shoulder hurt continuously, and because of it she says she put extra pressure on her back and knees. Silva played most of the season with pain in her shoulder, knees and back.

"It was not fun like before," Silva said. "After a tournament I go to hotel hurting so much. I wish I would have stopped, but I didn't know. I've never been hurt before."

Silva has a loose capsule in her right shoulder, an injury common among athletes who perform a lot of overhead activity. Her doctor, orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe, has ordered her to refrain from playing at least another month. In the meantime she undergoes intense physical therapy for the ailing muscle, which has been a key factor in her lethal jump serves and powerful spikes.

"It's a very common injury, like what (Dodger pitcher) Orel Hershiser had," said Liz Kaufman, Silva's physical therapist at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic. "It's most definitely possible to come back without surgery. Right now we're getting her strong. She just needs her shoulder specifically strengthened.

"She's been doing therapy for two months and she's a lot better than she was. She's still very concerned and she always asks, 'Can I play next weekend? Can I play the following weekend?' She needs to put volleyball aside and just focus on therapy for now."

But that has been extremely difficult for a woman who has played the game nonstop since the age of 9. Her career started on the beaches of her hometown, Rio de Janeiro. At 14 she made the Brazilian national team, where she was a setter for seven years. She played in two Olympic games (1980 and 1984), two Pan American Games (1978 and 1983) and two World Championships (1978 and 1982).

She left Brazil in 1985 and has been the WPVA's top-ranked player for the past two years. Silva is credited for introducing the powerful jump serve to the women's game. She also pioneered the two-hand set as an option to the routine bump set.

"Even injured, Jackie is a great player," said Kirby, who has won four of this year's WPVA tournaments with partner Angela Rock. "I'm sure she'll be ready soon."

But Silva was far from top form at the Fresno Open on April 27 and 28. It is the only tournament she has competed in this year. She played left-handed with Rita Crockett-Royster and lost, 15-13, in the second round after leading, 13-2. Silva has missed the other six events on this year's WPVA tour.

"It was disheartening to watch her play like that," said Vargas, a former collegiate volleyball player. "I think now she understands that she's not 100% yet and she's willing to sit out."

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