Injuries, team struggles can't keep junior down
Sit down with UA volleyball All-American outside hitter Kim Glass, and a few things stand out above the rest.
At a listed 6-foot-2, Glass casts an imposing figure. Have her walk toward you, and it's easy to notice how modest the team may have been with the tape measure.
Glass punctuates every one of her sentences with a quick flash of the teeth and a short laugh, a combination that has helped her become an unquestioned leader for the UA volleyball team.
But perhaps the most striking of all her features are her hands. These are her money-makers, the flesh-and-blood sledgehammers that have made Glass roll through the UA record books. They are large, yes, but still well kept, highlighted by a blue cross on her left ring finger and a number 86 on her right ring finger. Both paintings, Glass says, help her stay grounded in the best and worst of moments.
"They go hand in hand," she said, ignoring the pun.
"Sometimes, especially in the hard times," she said, "you start to turn your back on the person who is there for you all the time, you know?"
That person is the perpetual partner represented by the symbol on her left ring finger, and, over the last five months, it's safe to say that the junior has been in need of a helping hand.
It began in May, as Glass trained for the USA National team. During workouts, Glass noticed a consistent, flaring pain in her right shoulder. She battled through it with the help of anti-inflammatories, but the discomfort returned in July during training camp.
"It was hurtful," Glass says. "It just hurt so bad, and I didn't know what to do, so I stopped hitting. We got back into the season and all of a sudden it just came back up again. I went to (team trainer) Adam (Garmon).
"We found out that I had a torn ligament. Really small, like a pinhole-sized tear. I got a cortisone shot and (the doctors) wanted to help me recover for about two weeks, to see if it was going to get better. To see if I was going to redshirt or not, you know?"
For Glass, redshirting the season would mean putting a damper on both the momentum Arizona had built since last season - when they rode a young team to a 17-15 final mark - and on a career already fraught with so much promise.
"It was just frustrating to think that I would have to sit out an entire year and not be able to play and better myself," Glass says. "Not that I had no faith in the team. I have all faith in the team. It's just that being a competitive person, you always want to get out there and play, regardless."
Her decision ultimately rested on that of Dr. John Nesbitt, an orthopedic physician and stalwart in the Wildcat training room, who evaluated Glass' shoulder. Nesbitt told Glass that she would carry the pain through the season, should she choose to play, but that she was certainly capable of returning to the court.
"He said, 'I think you can go ahead with this,'" Glass says. "If the doctor would have said, 'Hey, I think you need to get surgery,' then I would have."
Glass rejoined the team for practice prior to its Pacific 10 Conference opener against Stanford Sept. 23 and its match against California the day after. The Cardinal swept Arizona in three games, while the Bears pulled out a five-game victory.
Head coach Dave Rubio noticed a sure difference in the team's performance with Glass participating.
"We had one day of practice with her in the lineup and then we played Stanford," Rubio says. "You wouldn't think it would be that much of a change (to have her playing), but her presence changes things on the floor, just in terms of how people communicate."
Glass was up-and-down regarding her first action of the season.
"Stanford was a horrible game," she said of her 10-kill, four-block output. "I didn't help the team one bit. I felt Dave should have taken me out of the game.
"The Cal game, I feel, I played a whole lot better," she says. "Dave came up to me and told me that was my best game throughout my entire college career. I was blocking, I was digging, I was serving, I was hitting, and I was passing well. I was breaking out all these things I didn't know I had in my repertoire."
Though Arizona has stumbled since then, dropping matches to UCLA and Southern California this weekend, Rubio insists that the focus now for this team is progress, not dominance.
"Our team is still trying to mature into the team it can be," he says. "I feel like we're in the second week of our season instead of the fifth week of our season. It's just a matter of time until we become a terrific team."
Glass, for her part, remains confident about what the team will accomplish.
"I always see one place for this team to go, and that's the Final Four," she says. "I really think that we have the talent to do it. It's a matter of us becoming more consistent."
"Practicing hard every single day, not letting one day go by when we don't get better in the gym."
Through consistent rehabilitation, Glass says her shoulder has stayed mostly pain free. But the specter of surgery still looms.
"I asked (Dr. Nesbitt), 'If I play right now, is this going to affect me if I don't get surgery?'" she says. "He didn't think so, but anything's possible. We'll see after the season how it feels and see if surgery is necessary or not."
Until then, Glass will keep playing, guided by the one figure whose presence continues to strike her life on a daily basis.
"God," she says. "G-O-D."