Reading helps spiker stay focused
Elite-level athletes sometimes draw on the most improbable sources for that competitive edge.
Canyon Crest Academy's Samantha Cash's passion for reading science fiction books qualifies among the most unusual.
These days, she's glued to the plight of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, the fictitious child genius character from Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" who protects the world from hostile alien attacks.
"It helps me focus on the details," Cash says. "It also helps calm me down."
It's hard to argue with the results.
Cash, who'll be a junior this year, has emerged as one of the top performers in one of the nation's most competitive volleyball regions.
Earlier this month, she helped lead an elite 16-and-under national team to a gold medal at the July 16 to 25 High Performance Championships in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., a prestigious U.S.A. Volleyball-sanctioned tournament.
Cash said she'd never met most of the 29 players in her age group selected for the competition.
"It was an incredible experience because every day we got so much better," Cash said. "We had so much fun."
Cash figures to bring plenty of joy to an upstart Ravens program. CCA, which competes in intensely competitive Coastal South League, has gone to the San Diego Section all three years since fielding a varsity program, advancing to the quarterfinals in 2006, and the semifinals the last two years.
Cash, who at 6-foot-3 has quick feet and excellent reflexes, is one of the region's most dominant middle blockers, CCA coach Ariel Haas said, noting that Cash is being actively recruited by some of the nation's top college programs.
"She's easily the best player I've ever coached in the girls' game," he says.
For all her skills, however, Cash is no diva, Haas said, noting that last season she easily accepted her role on a senior-heavy team that graduated three college-bound players (Megan Plumb and her twin sister Laura will play at Div. II East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, Pa., and Mesa College, respectively, and Amanda Harris will play at Div. II Clark of Worcester, Mass.).
"She knew she was kind of the young gun on the block and did everything she could to learn from that group of seniors before they took off," Haas said.
Cash said she was drawn to volleyball in her early youth, when it was clear she was among the tallest girls in her age group, noting she didn't care much for basketball.
"I just love the teamwork and how it is such a team sport," Cash says. "In a lot of other sports you can have one star and they can basically rule the game, but in volleyball you can't succeed unless you have a really good back row and you can't succeed unless you have a good setter and a good hitter.
"It takes a lot of really good players to win whether they're on the bench or on the court, and it's just a really nice feeling to have that connection."