Long before the 2019 season started, Roxanne Black had Aug. 9 marked on two of her calendars, a digital one and a paper one. Why was the date so important? It was the first day of tryouts for the San Benito High girls volleyball team, and earlier in the year it was far from certain that Black would be healthy enough to participate in tryouts.
After all, just five months earlier, Black had undergone surgery to repair a torn meniscus. She was on crutches for five weeks before starting a rigorous four-month physical therapy program. Time wasn’t on Black’s side. That’s why Black’s physical therapist, Amy Kamp, pushed her during rehabilitation, knowing Black didn’t have the luxury to waste a single minute in the recovery process.
“She definitely helped me push through some tears,” Black said, noting rehab isn’t exactly a pain-free process. “She is a really good physical therapist and knew I had a deadline to be ready for tryouts. We worked together to get to that point of getting my strength back.”
Even though the rehab process went well, Black was up against it. Two weeks before the tryout date, Black could barely do a body-weight squat. At full strength, Black could easily do 50 consecutive body-weight squats without resting. Now she was having a difficult time doing one. However, Black started to see progress fast, and by the time tryouts started, she was close to 100 percent.
But once Black started tryouts, the question was whether her body could hold up to the intensity of the game, which would require her to produce explosive movements in every direction. When an athlete gets injured and needs surgery, they all go through a period of doubt on whether they can return to the form pre-injury. Black was in this exact situation.
“It’s really scary and you’re not sure how it’s going to turn out,” she said. “You wonder, ‘Am I going to make it? Am I strong enough mentally and physically?'”
She was. Black made the team and is playing better than ever, coming off a breakout 2018 season. Before the season started, Black set a general goal to be at the “top of my abilities since it was my senior year.” That included having a high hitting percentage. While Black doesn’t know her statistics, she feels confident in saying that she’s a better version of herself in every phase of the game compared to last year.
“I think my blocking has definitely gotten more faster and efficient,” she said. “I’ve improved in being able to read the other hitter and know where they’re going to hit it. Junior year I would always mess up in terms of which hitter was going to hit it. But now I’m able to read the play better. … We have this rule where you’re supposed to look at the ball upon the first pass, but skip the setter and have your vision placed on who is going up hard for the ball. You can tell who is going to get it (with that approach).”
In addition to being tough defensively, Black has been potent on the attack. The 6-foot-1 Black has made it a point to be more judicious to where she hits the ball, knowing a powerful swing doesn’t always equate to a higher chance for a kill. San Benito coaches Emily Burley and Marlene Villegas have worked with the players to understand the defense and make a smart decision on ball placement.
“In practice we work on hitting those spots where no one else will be on the other side of the court,” Black said.
Of course, every once in a while, if Black is feeling it, she’ll let one rip no matter who is up at the net blocking.
“For sure, if the team is pushing you on and you’re super excited because you’ve been hitting well, I’ll try to power it through the block,” she said.
Black counts the team’s first match against Christopher as her best one this season. The Cougars are projected to go undefeated in Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division play this season, and Black was up for the challenge in playing against great competition.
“I felt really good and the whole team was amped for that game,” she said. “I was getting a lot of blocks and kills and was really proud of that. All of us were super excited beforehand—more than usual—which is why that match has stuck with me out of all the games we’ve played this season.”
Black was able to get up to speed in her senior season because of all the hard work she put in after the 2018 season ended. From there, she went straight into the club season with Rush Volleyball Club. Over the next several months, Black credited coach Isaiah Acfalle for helping her develop in every phase of the game.
“Isaiah taught me how to have a big approach, get up there height-wise and swing really hard (with efficiency),” she said. “Pretty much the whole hitting scenario, he taught me how to master that pretty much. He also taught me in the mental game, how to stay strong and have a little chip on your shoulder at all times. To be confident in what you’re doing no matter what happens, even if a ball gets slammed in your face. If something goes wrong, push to make sure you’re making a winning play on the next point.”
Black was at the top of her game when she suffered the torn meniscus upon landing awkwardly—”My lower leg went one way, my upper leg went another way and it twisted the middle part,” she said—in early March. After the surgery, Black had to answer the same question at school almost everyday to a different person: what happened? It was tough for Black because she was essentially reliving the injury every time she told someone of her situation.
Despite the frustration of that and little things like having a tough time getting in and out of the car or out of bed, Black maintained a resolve and single-minded focus to get back on the court for her senior year. After Black was able to do away with the crutches, she saw Kamp twice a week for physical therapy sessions while also doing strengthening exercises on her own at home. Motivated and determined, Black wasn’t going to be denied—a big reason why San Benito High coaches Emily Burley and Marlene Villegas speak highly of her.