Sat. November 19, 2011 |
KISSIMMEE -- Brittnay Estes thought about what might have happened if East Lake hadn't won a state volleyball championship Saturday afternoon.
They'd blame her dad, who had no volleyball experience when East Lake hired him.
They'd say he messed up a good thing, and East Lake was foolish to pass on more qualified applicants, coaches with club experience, coaches who had, you know, actually won a few volleyball matches.
Just like softball, they'd moan, when he had the No. 2 team in the country and couldn't bring home a state title.
Yep, they'd say all of those things.
"He'd never hear the end of it,'' she said.
Then, Brittnay Estes cried.
That's why she went out there Friday and Saturday, sicker than she'd ever been after suffering an allergic reaction to food.
That's why she didn't take her medicine, so her head would be clear.
That's why, even as her body screamed at her with every movement, she soared through the air and smashed the volleyball and pumped her fist and willed her team to victory.
No one was going to blame Mike Estes for anything.
Not on Brittnay's watch.
She posed for pictures, held the championship trophy, tried to smile and hammed it up with her teammates.
It was easy to hurt for her.
Her face was bloated and her lips swollen, outlined by a nasty row of sores, the same ones covering her tongue and inside of her mouth.
Her eyes were bloodshot and glassy, so much so that at one point Mike Estes looked at her in the huddle and thought she might fall over.
"You all right,'' he asked, and she nodded.
Her neck and arms and legs were speckled by red blotches, her back was sore, her body was weak.
She's not sure if it was Halloween candy, or marinara sauce she ate at a catered Homecoming event last week, or both. She just knows that on Sunday, everything started going wrong, and by Wednesday she was in an emergency room, and Thursday she was walking through school with people gawking at her.
She wore slippers to practice Thursday night, the chance of her missing the two biggest matches of the year becoming more and more likely.
She couldn't bear it. She slipped them off, and told setter Rachel Reed to give a her chance.
"I'll pass it to you, you set it to me, let's see if I can do this,'' she told Reed.
Barefoot, Estes took off and slammed the ball down hard off the court, and put her slippers back on.
"I'm playing,'' she announced.
The doctors said she could play, and Mike Estes wasn't going to stand in her way.
How could he?
Brittnay is tough, feisty, hard-nosed, stubborn, competitive, resilient, determined.
She had to play. It's who she is.
Saturday, she had 15 kills.
Brittnay is as known for her booming kills as she is for the effect they have on her team.
If she is not the team's spiritual leader, she is certainly its spirit-full leader.
"We missed her energy,'' said middle hitter Brianna McComeskey. "We tried to pick it up for her, since she's the loudest on the team we all tried to be a little more vocal.''
That wasn't easy. McComeskey put her hand on her neck and smiled.
"My throat is killing me,'' she said.
Yeah, Mike Estes had no volleyball experience when East Lake hired him, and he has no problem admitting that.
But he can coach, he can relate to kids and motivate them, and his laidback style was, in fact, perfectly suited for this particular team.
He picked his spots, but otherwise let the team follow its course and its destiny. He didn't come in with an ego, trying to change things, trying to reinvent the offense and make it about him.
It was never about him.
He didn't want the job, at first. Or second.
But East Lake needed him.
And Brittnay needed him.
So he accepted the gig, after much persuasion, knowing that if it didn't work out, he'd be the guy that blew a sure state championship.
"I know he did this for me, and I love him for that,'' his daughter said, her glassy eyes spilling over.
Saturday afternoon, Brittnay Estes returned the favor.