For the rest of the mere
mortals that inhabit this spinning globe, athletic
excellence requires picking a sport at an early age
and practicing it during every spare moment, perhaps
only taking time out to sleep or eat. But for Heather
Bown, starting middle blocker for the US National
Team, her journey to the Olympics began with the
simple high school desire to hang out with a friend
during her junior year.
Volleyball has certainly taken Bown, who was a swimmer
her first three years of high school, on an odyssey
that began at the University of California, Santa
Barbara (UCSB), then to the University of Hawaii, and
now has her globetrotting as a member of the national
team. However, the journey did not start out smoothly
"My high school coach (Kurt Kersten) and I didn't
mesh," said Bown. "He told me I wasn't a
Division I player. I basically heard that I wasn't
good enough. That was devastating."
But once finally given the opportunity to play, Bown
took full advantage. In what was her first full year
in the sport, Bown played in each match and recorded
2.47 kills and 1.19 blocks per game. During her
sophomore year, she recorded 453 kills and 190 blocks.
From there it was off to Hawai and then Colorado where
a shot at the national team awaited her.
"I really wasn't expecting to (make the team). It
was surreal," said Bown. "My goal was just
to get experience and get my foot in the door for
Athens." But those plans changed when she not
only made the squad but became the starting middle
blocker on a team that would ultimately finish fourth
at the Olympics. Since Sydney, not only has Bown been
a mainstay on the National Team, her eyes have been
set squarely on Athens.
"Winning an Olympic medal has been on everybody's
mind since we lost to Brazil in the bronze medal
matchin Sydney," said Bown. "We're getting
better and stronger every year, so gold is a
possibility. Nobody will be happy to just be at the
Exhibit A for Bown's claim of an improved National
Team could be found at the World Championships in
Germany a few months ago, where they breezed through
their first ten matches en route to the gold medal
game, in which they fell to Italy.
"It was a new group and we just seemed to mesh,"
said Bown, who ranked third among all players with 34
blocks. "We kind of struggled the first week and
were lucky against Russia. But in the (Cuba) game, we
clicked. Everything was natural after that. "We
had a good time, which makes a big difference. The
mentality was great."
Bown believed it was
the team's mentality that was most responsible for
their performance, a mentality that came straight from
head coach Toshi Yoshida. Bown's gratefulness of
Yoshida is definitely reciprocal, partially due to the
fact that she can reach 10'6" at full leap.
"Her athleticism is amazing," said Yoshida.
"She can jump high and hit the ball very, very
hard. She's improved a lot in blocking and is now one
of the top blockers in the world."
Following the World Championships Bown blocked shots
professionally in Italy for Radio 105 Foppapedretti
Bergamo. This was the third straight year she has
played in Italy, the first two of which were spent
living with Stacy Sykora. This past year, however, she
has been on her own. And even though living with a
fellow American made things easier, Bown believes
being on her own has been better.