Club SportsSports

Sonja’s toughness rare

Jack Hunter

If you were a star athlete and I told you that you had subluxed your patella, what would you do?

Well, first you might ask me what exactly it means to sublux a patella. In a nutshell, the subluxation of a patella involves the slight dislocation of a kneecap, which can lead to swelling and painful movement, according to the University of Michigan Health System.

Given that information, you would likely decide to shut yourself down for a few weeks and see what happens. Most athletes would do exactly the same. But not Oregon’s senior outside hitter, Sonja Newcombe. She’s not like most athletes.

Newcombe, a senior outside hitter for the No. 7 Ducks volleyball team, suffered this painful injury on Friday, two days before an important match-up with Pacific-10 Conference opponent Washington State. She had suffered the injury before, but that didn’t make it easier to deal with. No one, including head coach Jim Moore, knew exactly what to expect from her on Sunday.

So what they saw blew their minds.

Newcombe not only played, she dominated the game, leading the team in kills with 19, hitting with a .405 percentage, and registering 21 total points. The rest of the team followed her lead, and together they dispatched the Cougars three sets to one.

During one particularly memorable sequence in the third set, Newcombe showcased both her toughness and impressive skill set.

The Ducks were coming out of a timeout having blown a five-point lead, and the score was tied at 22. Outside hitter Heather Meyers registered a quick kill, and Newcombe finished the set with two powerful kills in a row, each time leaping twice as high as anyone else could on two good legs.

“She was unbelievable, just unbelievable,” Moore said. “She had everyone calm. Everyone. She was very special.”

When most sports fans think of toughness, they picture Derek Jeter leaping headfirst into the stands at Yankee Stadium to catch a foul ball, or Willis Reed hobbling out on the court to play Game 7 of the NBA finals in Madison Square Garden despite a torn thigh muscle.

Volleyball may not be thought of as one of the grittiest sports in the world, but what Newcombe did on Sunday proved she is just as tough, if not tougher, than a lot of professional athletes.

Take current Cubs pitcher Rich Harden, for example, who once injured his arm while turning off his alarm clock. Or Manny Ramirez sitting out a game when he was on the Red Sox (against the Yankees, no less) with a “knee problem” when MRIs showed no damage.

Granted, many of these issues are not entirely the athletes’ fault. These days, athletes are worth so much money that owners, coaches, and trainers will stop at nothing to protect their commodities, and sometimes go overboard. By no means do I suggest that any players be forced to play in games when they physically or mentally cannot, but at times it just goes too far, especially in baseball. It’s a bit like if I were to refuse to write an article after getting a minor headache.

Put simply, toughness in sports is not nearly as commonplace as it used to be, and in that sense, Newcombe is old-school. She should be applauded for her single-minded dedication to her team’s success, something that we seem to see less and less these days.

Personally, I miss the grittiness we used to see in athletes. I’m sick of Major League Baseball players sitting out games because they felt a little twinge in their elbow. Not all players are this way, but too many seem to be more concerned about themselves than their teammates and the game they supposedly love to play. That is why Newcombe’s story is so refreshing, and I am very happy I was there to see her performance in person.

Newcombe’s knee may not be in exactly the right place, but her heart sure is.

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