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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

Fishburn's Genes Are the Right Fit

October 06, 2002|Eric Sondheimer

If someone wants to put together a father-daughter volleyball tournament, one of the favorites to win would be the Fishburns, Andy and Jessica.

"I think we'd have a good chance to be unbeatable," Andy said.

Andy is 47 and looks as fit in shorts as he did nine years ago, when he stopped competing professionally after winning 20 pro beach tournaments.

Daughter Jessica, 15, is an outside hitter at Brentwood School.

"Volleyball is my life," she said.

Before she could walk, her parents would bring her to the beach for Andy's matches.

"I remember being distracted by her crying in the middle of a match," Andy said.

Since she was 3, Jessica has been receiving training from her father.

"He taught me everything I know," she said.

Jessica has become one of the top sophomores in the state. As a freshman, she helped Brentwood reach the Southern Section Division IV-A final and was chosen co-player of the year in the Delphic League. This season, she has led the Eagles to an 8-0 start.

Last year, she won her first beach tournament, which created an emotional moment for her teary-eyed father.

"I was so happy for this little girl growing up," he said. "It's an absolute passion for her, and it was for me. Watching your child excel in sports is about as meaningful a thing you can do. It's so fun."

What's impressive about the Fishburns is that no one forgets where sports fit in. They're second, behind academics. Andy was a straight-A student at North Hollywood Harvard, now Harvard-Westlake, in the 1970s, went to Yale for two years, then Stanford.

Jessica is matching her dad in the straight-A competition, and her older brother, Mike, who doesn't play sports, also is a good student.

Andy, who's 6 feet 3, was such a dominant player that he helped Yale make its first and only NCAA Final Four appearance in 1975. He played on the beach tour for 14 years, winning world championships in 1980 and 1984.

Chris Marlowe, who competed against Andy in beach tournaments, calls him "one of the top players of his era."

Andy has gone on to work behind a desk and wear collared shirts as a senior vice president for CarrAmerica Realty Corp.

But he still finds time to play volleyball at the Beach Club in Santa Monica. When he plays on the same team as his 6-foot daughter, Jessica is the one barking out orders.

"She yells at him to move," mother Michelle said.

Jessica has inherited her father's competitiveness, so much that she has been known to sulk in the locker room after losing a match to him.

"He's the one person I really want to beat," she said. "He's where I'm trying to get, or above him."

Jessica possesses a terrific jump serve and has solid passing skills. She has prided herself on becoming an all-around player, something that the beach game requires.

"I've always been a believer that the beach game hones your skills because you have to do everything," Andy said.

Watching his daughter play is more nerve-racking for Andy than when he was playing for money.

"It revives my desire to play, but I did as much as I wanted in sports and it's not like I'm trying to re-create my life through her," he said. "She's always had this great desire to play. I've never had to ask her. She asks me."

Jessica has focused so much on volleyball that it forced her to give up other interests, such as playing piano, singing in a chorus and playing goalie for the soccer team.

Andy worries about the emphasis on specialization in high school.

"I think it's bad to expect kids at this age to specialize so young, but the bar has been raised," he said.

Brentwood Coach Jeff Porter said he believes Jessica could develop into the best player in school history.

"She's the real deal," he said.

Jessica is determined to achieve excellence.

"I'm so into sports it's incredible," she said. "It's my life."


Eric Sondheimer can be reached at

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