BOWIE -- When coach Frances Blackburn talks about how young her volleyball team is, she has to chuckle a bit.
Yes, the Bowie State volleyball team has seven freshmen and two sophomores. But two of those freshmen are Janette Ross and Lani Choy.
Ross is 42 years old. Choy is 32.
"They're freshmen, though," Blackburn said.
A little explanation probably is necessary.
Choy came to Bowie after nine years in the Air Force. She is working to combine credits from about 10 other universities into a degree. While those credits are being evaluated, Choy is, technically, a freshman. Because she had played non-organized volleyball -- "picnic volleyball," she calls it -- for 14 years, Blackburn asked her to join the Bulldogs squad.
Ross has a different story.
Born in Great Britain, Ross had been moving around the United States with her husband for several years.
"I found myself living in Annapolis without any career or job skills," she said. "I wanted to teach, and this was the closest school that offered a teaching degree."
While in Annapolis, a friend introduced Ross to volleyball as a social activity. She liked the game, and when she started at Bowie . . .
"I saw an article about there being a new volleyball coach," Ross said. "I didn't even know there was a volleyball team. My friend said I should try out. I said, 'Don't be stupid. These are college athletes, 18, 19 and 20 years old, who have all played in high school.'
"But I went to the coach and said, 'I'm 41 years old [she was at ZTC the time], and I've been playing volleyball for three years. Can I come out and practice with the team? Maybe I'll learn something.' "
As it turned out, Ross was the one who was doing the teaching. She said most of the Bowie players were new to volleyball. Although Ross lacked the youthful energy and athleticism they had, she had more experience.
And, once Blackburn checked that she had her eligibility, Ross ++ was on the team. Her children, ages 12 and 13, love it.
"They think it's neat that Mom's on a college team," she said. "Sometimes, they go on the road with us and my daughter sits on the bench and screams, 'Come on, ladies, talk!' "
Now, the Bulldogs, who were eliminated in their first Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Tournament yesterday in Winston-Salem, N.C., are the oldest "young" team around.
That, as you might expect, creates some unusual situations.
"Most of our games are on the road," Choy said. "So, it's interesting, sitting in a van with 10 or so 18- and 19-year-old girls. They get silly, and they start singing. If they would sing something I knew the words to, I might sing along, but I don't know the words to any rap songs."
Despite their differences, Ross and Choy are treated just like the rest of the team. Blackburn said they don't start, but are valuable members of the team off the bench.
The team "accepted them really well," Blackburn said. "They don't make a point of giving motherly advice, so that helps."
Ross said she doesn't act like a mother with the team, and she isn't treated like one, either.
"We tease each other a lot," she said. "I'm a different culture, a different race, a different age. So we have a lot to tease each other about."