Thursday, November 15, 2001

Sara Bachus

Xavier's lesson in real game

        It's 8 a.m. on a school day. Students are moving lazily around the cafeteria in the handsome new Cintas Center at Xavier University. Sara Bachus makes her loose-limbed way to the table. No juice, thanks. She had breakfast a long time ago. She has been lifting free weights since 6:30.

        She might have been born with certain athletic gifts. But she works at it.

        A senior on Xavier's volleyball team, Sara is a star. Even if you don't know anything about the sport, you can see that she is something special.

        Whirling, scooping, diving. Smacking the ball. And that ball goes where she aims it. A thousand hours of practice. Maybe two thousand. She's 21 now and has been playing this game since she was 3. The gutters on her house in Delhi, she says, were always loose. From the ball. Neighbors got used to the sound of it thudding against the garage door.

        She started playing right around the time her mom began to suspect a problem. Lin Jung, a nurse for Cincinnati Public Schools, took her daughter for testing. Cochlear damage, the doctors said. A mystery. The girl was left with just 20 percent hearing in her left ear and 65 percent in her right.

        Now, I hate to make a big whoop-de-do about her hearing. Because she doesn't. She steers the conversation toward her team.

        “To play really well,” she says, “you have to communicate.” So they do. Silently. A tap on the nose means something. Somebody tugs on an ear. They communicate. And win. The Musketeers, 23-3 this season, will play in the Atlantic 10 Championships this weekend.

        It has been a good run for Sara. Playing for Seton High School, she was two-time district Player of the Year. Her junior year at XU, she was conference Player of the Year. Friday, Sara will find out if she'll win the title again as a senior. Chances are good. In the warlike terms of volleyball, she excels in hits and kills. Not to mention digs and attacks.

        And she looks like such a nice person. A light-bulb smile with a flash that uses her whole face. Blond hair pulled back into a careless ponytail. Hearing aid just part of the decor, like her eyeglasses perched atop her head and the silver stud earrings.

        A kill, she explains patiently, is when a player hits the ball over the net and scores. A dig is when you keep an opponent from getting a kill. She supposes hits and attacks are self-explanatory. She grins. Extra wattage for a remedial student.

        The free weights are something she does twice a week. Then there's regular practice four days a week, the game itself and the pregame. She guesses she spends maybe 15 hours a week on volleyball during the season. Not counting travel.

        Meanwhile, she is a regular on the Dean's List. This, although she can't read lips and look down to take notes at the same time. She pays careful attention, then scribbles notes after class. “I was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle it,” she says. “But you never know what you can do until you try.”

        You can talk to kids until you're blue in the face about overcoming the odds. You can lecture about doing their best No Matter What. You can tell them life is a team sport. And that hard work pays off.

        Or you can take them to see Sara Bachus play volleyball. And let her show them.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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