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4 Hours : The Star

There was nothing special about Tuesday, Oct. 9, 1996. Around Orange County there was a heavy girls' volleyball schedule. Hundreds of people were involved as athletes, coaches, officials and fans. For four hours, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., life went on--unrehearsed. Like it always does.

November 05, 1996|DAVE McKIBBEN

It's after 4:30 and Joanna Fielder (affectionately called "Jo Momma" by her teammates) has not arrived. The biggest match of the season, against Irvine, is still about two hours away--or so everyone thinks.

A middle blocker for the seventh-ranked Newport Harbor Sailors, Fielder and her best friend, Breanna Badorek, are last to arrive from the pre-match pasta dinner at outside hitter Melissa Snow's house.

Fielder, a stringy 6 feet 2, is impossible to miss when she walks into the Newport Harbor gym. She is greeted with a high-10, the first of a hundred she will receive in the next three hours.

Sufficiently nourished but not "stuffed" from a well-cooked meal by Snow's mother, Fielder is already well into her superstitious routine that began Monday night with a five-minute visualization of today's match.

"We're all supposed to take five minutes before we go to bed and focus on the game," she says. "I thought about [Irvine's] Kathy Cook. She plays the same position I do. We beat them in five games [earlier in the season], but she destroyed me."

Fielder said her pre-match routine never varies. "The team's superstitious, but not like me," she says. "I'm very superstitious. Everything I do is superstitious. When I'm getting ready, I'll wear the same sports bra. I'll wear the same shoes even though my other pair is newer."

Fielder takes off with her teammates for a short jog at 5:10 p.m., making sure to slap her favorite white sign--which is blank--for good luck.

In the wrestling room with her teammates to stretch and relax, Fielder's pre-match routine is interrupted; she reluctantly volunteers to keep score for the frosh-soph game in an adjacent gym.

That endeavor is cut short at 5:40, when someone tells Fielder the junior varsity match ended after two quick games and the varsity is on the floor. Fielder collects a few more high-10s from her teammates upon arrival in the main gym, but appears hurried and nervous as she goes through pre-match drills.

The match begins at 6 p.m., 30 minutes earlier than usual, and Fielder's coach, Dan Glenn, is trying to get his star's mind on the game. "Hands up, Jo," Glenn shouts.

Within five minutes, Glenn substitutes for Fielder and gives his middle blocker some advice about getting herself in better position. Fielder returns and immediately gives her team a lift, blocking a kill that puts the Sailors ahead, 5-0. But she follows her block with a serve that sails beyond the end line and gives Irvine a side out.

Glenn lowers his head.

Irvine falls behind, 10-5, but ties the score at 13-13. As the score tightens, Fielder's father leaves the stands and paces next to his daughter's bench. "Let's go, Newport," he yells.

Newport Harbor gets the next two points to set off a flurry of high-10s that include even Mr. Fielder. The Sailors struggle to win the next game, 16-14, but clinch the match in a 15-4 runaway.

Fielder never does get involved in the match and her statistics show it. Three blocks, three kills out of 11 attempts, one dig and one service error. Nothing spectacular.

"She went to Michigan over the weekend on a recruiting trip and I think she was a little out of sync," assistant coach Tom Pestolesi says. "She hadn't played in three days."

Fielder goes upstairs with her teammates to the wrestling room and listens to a lecture from Pestolesi and Glenn.

On her way out, Fielder is stopped by UC Irvine's volleyball coach, Merja Connolly. Fielder appears more interested in going home than talking about recruiting--or her performance.

"Physically, I didn't play as good as I thought I could have," she said. "And I wasn't prepared for going to the other gym and keeping score."

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