Babo-chan is looking forward seeing you


Heather Bown

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 at all.

"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 Olympics."

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.