CUMBERLAND — A year ago Sara Warnock could barely contain her enthusiasm.
She was a 5-foot-11 junior playing opposite hitter on a tradition-rich Greely High volleyball team flush with seniors. A seventh straight state championship seemed likely.
After victories at Biddeford and Gorham, the Rangers were warming up for their home opener against North Yarmouth Academy. Warnock passed with a partner, then started hammering spikes during the six minutes before the match each team is allowed use of the entire court.
A middle hitter since she began playing volleyball as a freshman, Warnock had learned to play opposite hitter during her Junior Olympic club season the previous spring and found she enjoyed it even more.
“It was something I was really looking forward to,” she said. “I was so prepared for the season and so excited.”
After spiking one practice set, she ducked under the net and chased down the ball she had spanked. Suddenly it was between her feet and down she went.
“It was just some flukey thing,” she said. “I wasn’t really looking, I was running. We only have six minutes so I was like, go as fast as you can.”
A senior teammate, Mary Zambello, rushed over and asked Warnock if she was OK.
No, came the reply. Warnock had broken her right ankle five years earlier in a soccer game and this felt painfully similar.
“It didn’t hurt,” Warnock said. “Well, it did. But I was mostly in hysterics because I knew I couldn’t play and I was just so upset about that. I cried all the way to the hospital.”
Six weeks passed before Warnock played again, in the semifinals of the state tournament. Even then she could see the bump of a bone fragment protruding from her ankle, which swelled after each practice and game.
Her doctor recommended surgery but she put it off so she could play basketball, then extended it again until after her club volleyball season ended in May.
“People don’t realize what kind of player she is because they didn’t really get to see her last year,” Greely Coach Kelvin Hasch said. “I think she’ll make a huge impact.”
Hasch learned a lot about Warnock after her injury, which occurred a year ago Thursday. Her absence from the court didn’t translate into an absence from the team.
“She showed up for everything,” he said. “Even during practice when she had a cast on her foot, she’d do push-ups and arm presses, things like that. The whole time she was working on it, trying to strengthen her body.”
Last spring Warnock joined an all-girls fitness class offered at Greely and taught by Ashley Marble, the former University of Southern Maine basketball star who was originally at Maine on a volleyball scholarship.
They met twice a week and did everything from running to weight training to agility workouts and even Zumba, a dance fitness program set to Latin music.
“She’s an excellent athlete, a hard worker and someone who’s very much a silent leader,” Marble said of Warnock. “It was nice to have her in a workout.”
Over the summer, after recovering from surgery that removed the bone chip and left a smooth 2-inch scar over her right ankle, Warnock discovered beach volleyball and yoga. Both were hits.
“The atmosphere of sports and, for me, school, is so competitive,” said Warnock, a high honors student. “Always trying to get to the top and do the best you can and have the best grades, that yoga was so relaxing. It’s good for your body but it’s also good for your mind.”
With 10 players lost to graduation from the state championship squad, the Rangers are no longer a shoo-in for the title. They lost their opening match to Biddeford, in Cumberland, no less. They have only three other seniors besides Warnock.
“It’s getting to know everyone’s style and how everyone communicates and plays together,” Warnock said. “That’s something we’re trying to work out right now. Volleyball is so team-oriented that you can’t just be six individual players. You really have to be one team.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]