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Archive for Thursday, October 12, 2006

Keegan: Horejsi excursion enjoyable

October 12, 2006

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Never having seen a volleyball match, the mission was to attend one at Horejsi Family Athletics Center and learn as much as possible in one night about the sport.

Here's what was learned during Kansas University's victory in the modern-yet-intimate venue over Kansas State: With the possible exception of musicians, nobody seems to enjoy their jobs more than collegiate women's volleyball players. They celebrate after each point and smile a great deal.

What else?

The crowd is as involved as in any sport and adds to the homecourt advantage with volume, energy and well-timed insults aimed at opposing players. Not mean insults. Funny ones. The hecklers, those among Ray's Boy's who sit near the front row, know all the opposing players' names and use them.

"Don't worry, I still love you," one will say to a player he calls by name after she makes an error.

With perfect timing, another will add with a louder voice, "I don't!"

Other lessons learned:

It's legal to kick the ball.

One player from each team wears a different color shirt from her teammates, is known as the libero and can substitute in and out freely.

Short shorts don't seem out of place, as they do in NBA games on ESPN Classic Sports.

The most valuable lesson: It doesn't require any knowledge of a sport to be able to pick out quickly the best athlete in the competition. She's the one who's always in the right place, the one whose eyes are so intense, so in tune with the target, so in complete sync with the rhythm of the game at all times. She's the one with so much explosiveness in her legs, so much agility, so much power.

That would be KU's Jana Correa, a 6-foot senior from Macapa, Brazil. What an amazing athlete. She alone is worth a trip to Horejsi. Then to find out all she's been through just to get back out there makes it even easier to wish her well.

Correa has had two surgeries on each knee and tore the anterior cruciate ligament of each knee.

Her junior season ended at Horejsi in an October match against Kansas State.

"That was very, very much on my mind," she said. "I thought, 'Oh my God, here we go again.' I was very nervous."

Once the match started, there was no evidence of nerves, just as other than a brace, there was no hint at a history of knee trouble, at least not for those who hadn't seen her before the surgeries.

"I was just talking to my mom about how I could jump way higher before," she said. "And I told her it's OK, I'm just very happy to be out here."

That certainly showed after KU had dusted K-State in four games, as she put her arms around teammates who formed a line and swayed back and forth while singing "Crimson and the Blue."

"I'm really going to miss this," she said.

And then what?

"Right now, my plans are not to play pro volleyball," Correa said. "I just want to get a job and live a normal life. If I move close to the beach, maybe I'll play beach volleyball."

Those words were a fitting end to an evening of pure entertainment featuring highly skilled amateurs enjoying what they do for what it is, not as a means to some greater end.

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