After coaching middle blockers, Mesa State’s Bird wants to be back on court
Jessica Bird isn’t sure how she broke the fifth metacarpal in her right hand.
All she knows is she’s back.
The 6-foot senior middle blocker, a preseason all-RMAC selection for the Mesa State College volleyball team, has been cleared to play this week after missing the first 13 matches of the season.
“I didn’t think it was broken because I was doing all kinds of things with it,” Bird said Tuesday before her first full practice since late August.
“I’m excited. We’ve got two days of practice to get some playing time under my belt. I can’t sit on the bench with my parents here, so I’m going to go all-out and play hard.”
Bird’s parents are flying in from Honolulu, Hawaii, for her birthday, as they’ve done each of the past four years. It’ll be the final time they’ll see her play in her college career.
She wants to be in the starting lineup, although she knows that’s not a given. That’s because she’s done a good job coaching the other two middles, sophomore Lindsey Jefferson and redshirt freshman Antoinette McCormick.
Mesa State coach Dave Fleming put Bird in charge of coaching the middle blockers while her hand was healing, a job she took seriously.
“They’re young and it’s not that they don’t know, but I’m on the side of the court and I can see some things that they don’t,” said Bird, who had 301 kills, 20 solo blocks and 33 block assists last season.
Those extra eyes from the sideline have paid off. Jefferson has 54 blocks (four solo) and 63 kills,
McCormick 31 blocks (seven solo) and 55 kills.
“When we’d come off the court or in practice, she was there to tell us, ‘You have the cutback open, call for the swing, press over,’ ’’ Jefferson said. “She helped us know what we’re doing because we can’t see when
we’re in the air. She can see that and helped us all out.”
Bird and McCormick have become good friends, so when the middle blocker spot opened up, McCormick grabbed it.
“It was my opportunity to show what I could do,” the 5-10 freshman from Grand Junction said.
All three middle blockers will have their chances this week, when the Mavs (7-6, 5-1 RMAC) play three matches at home, starting at 7 p.m. on Thursday against Colorado Christian (5-10, 1-5).
At 7 p.m. on Friday, the Mavericks play Metro State (7-6, 5-1), with a 3 p.m. start for Saturday’s match against Regis (7-7, 3-3).
McCormick and Jefferson, a 6-2 sophomore from Orem, Utah, are happy their coach is now their teammate again, but they’re not about to just step aside.
“We’re real excited she’s going to come back in and play with us this weekend,” Jefferson said. “We’ve done real well. Antoinette, her first real season, she came out and blew us all away. It was unexpected, but a very good thing.
“Hopefully we can keep our spots. That was one of my goals, to be a starter and not come off the court.”
McCormick, too, will fight to keep her playing time.
“It’s always a competition,” she said. “Being best friends, it’s more of a drive, you want to beat the person in front of you. It’s more of a push now that there’s three of us. It’ll be a good thing that she’s back.”
Bird’s right hand is wrapped and her ring and pinkie fingers are taped together for support. She wasn’t sure what to expect that first time she went up to block a ball in a game situation.
“I’m not sure how that’s going to work out,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s the euphoria blocking out the pain or what.”
Come Thursday night, Bird will still help coach the young blockers, but she wants to be doing that on the floor in uniform.
“If I’m not starting this weekend, I will be heartbroken, but I will understand,” she said, smiling. “Two days of practice before a three-game weekend isn’t a lot, but if I can prove myself in that time, I’ll be really happy.”
She won’t tell those young kids to step off the floor just because they’re the young kids.
“No, not because you’re a freshman,” she said, looking at McCormick and laughing. “Move out because I’m back.”