Glen Burnie senior Adrienne Blake focuses her talent to help her team while providing a rallying point for her family in times of grief

A unifying force

Volleyball

October 04, 2006|By Alejandro Danois | Alejandro Danois,Special to The Sun

For Glen Burnie senior hitter Adrienne Blake, volleyball is much more than a sport at which she happens to be very good. During the past few years, the game has been a blessing - a galvanizing, unifying and healing force for her and the entire Blake family.

Her older sister Amanda played at Glen Burnie when Adrienne was in middle school. While sitting in the stands cheering for her sister, Blake was captivated by the movement and the inner rhythms of the sport. She studied the choreographed teamwork that led to scoring opportunities, the footwork, fundamentals and positioning of players on the court.

As a seventh-grader, Adrienne practiced and competed with Amanda, honing her skills and developing a passion for the sport. When she showed up at volleyball workouts as a freshman at Glen Burnie, she'd already developed into a formidable player.

"She was a starter from the moment she stepped on the court for tryouts," said former Glen Burnie volleyball coach Andrew Lazzor. "She was a naturally skilled athlete with a firm understanding of the fundamentals."

At first glance, the small, slender freshman did not appear to be special. But when the ball was served, Blake played beyond her stature, digging, setting and serving naturally. Teammates, coaches and spectators would take notice when she jumped high at the net, blasting the ball into open spaces.

"My first year was a little scary in the beginning, playing against older and bigger competition," Blake said. "But it was a good experience that allowed me to play up to my potential."

During her freshman season, she was used primarily as a setter.

"She'd never set before, but you could never tell," Lazzor said. "She was a great all-around player and we wanted her to set, pass, hit and everything else."

As a sophomore, Blake's older brother Alex came to watch one of her games before heading back to California, where he was stationed in the Navy. "Just remember that I taught you everything you know," Adrienne recalled Alex jokingly telling her.

A few days later, Alex died in a car accident.

"Adrienne and her brother had a special bond, and he enjoyed watching his little sister play," said Veronica Blake, Adrienne's mother. "It was a very rough time."

Some people suggested that she take some time off from the game, but she felt that Alex would have wanted her to play. Adrienne Blake gained support from her teammates, who rallied around her and tried to be as supportive as possible. Amid the pain of her loss, she was able to find joy and solace on the court.

In her junior year, her grandfather, who would cheer for her and the Glen Burnie team at every game from his wheelchair, also passed away during the season. Again, she forged ahead without missing a game.

"Volleyball was a godsend," Veronica Blake said. "It pulled our family through some tough times and for Adrienne, it was a distraction from the sorrow."

Blake earned first-team All-County honors last year.

This year, she hopes Glen Burnie can improve on last season's 9-7 record and semifinal elimination in the county championships.

The slim, 5-foot-9 hitter has added a jump serve to her arsenal, which she's just as comfortable executing as her float serve. Her love of practice and work ethic help set the tone for the team.

"She loves to practice," Gophers coach John Gettier said. "After a good, hard, two-hour workout where we're constantly moving, she still wants to practice some more."

"She's a complete player that can do just about anything and play any position," Gettier said. "She never panics, and if someone leaves an opening, she can shoot the ball in the corner, dink it over the net or crush it as an outside hitter for kills."

Opposing coaches, wary of Blake's talent, try to keep the ball away from her. With an ability to dig and pass to the setter, she poses a threat from anywhere on the court.

With her father, Bob, who is an assistant coach on the team, and her mother at every game, volleyball is still the glue that holds the family together.

On Thursday, against Severna Park, Blake was playing her usual game, hitting and passing with efficiency. With Glen Burnie winning the first game and leading in the second, the power in the building went out as a result of the tornado that touched down in the early evening, forcing the game's postponement. Blake took it in stride.

"I just try to keep a good attitude, be a leader and pick my team up," Blake said.

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