About the Book
Seventh grader Dina Jacobs feels like she’s landed on another planet when her family moves from Long Island, New York to Indiana. She tries out for the seventh grade volleyball team, and her new friend, Christine, introduces her to Olympic volleyball. Now Dina dreams of playing in the Olympics like her newfound idol, Logan Tom. Indiana doesn’t seem so bad after all until Dina’s Jewish faith crashes against her coach’s win-at-all-costs attitude. Miserable, Dina is torn between staying true to her religious customs or putting them aside to play the game she loves.
Dina Jacobs sat on the hard bleachers in the Amelia Earhart Middle School gymnasium, wishing the athletic director would wrap up her welcome speech. The volleyball tryouts should have started already. She sighed and looked around her. The gym at her old school in Hawkinsville, Long Island, New York only had one volleyball court, not three like this one. Her parents told her that everything would seem bigger in Indiana. They weren’t lying. Indiana seemed to go on and on and on, and all it seemed to have was corn, corn, and more corn. Oh, and soybeans. Whatever those were.
Her mother nudged her in the side. “Are you nervous, honey?”
“A little.” Dina readjusted her knee pads and pulled her jet black hair into a pony tail. She liked to keep the hair off her neck when she played, so she tacked the end of the ponytail to the back of her head with a barrette.
Dina leaned close to her mother and whispered, “All these girls in cawn country probably have nuttin’ bettuh to do than play volleyball twenty-four sev.”
“Cawn country?” Her mother laughed. “Honey, you’ve got to work on that Long Island accent of yours.” She patted Dina on the knee. “You’ll be fine. I’ll be right here on the bleachers if you get nervous, okay? Just look back, and I’ll give you a thumbs up.”
Dr. Lewiski, the athletic director, finally stopped talking and directed the sixth graders to the court at the far end of the gym. She then called for the seventh graders to go to the middle court.
“Oh, there you go,” her mother said.
Dina stood up. “Wish me luck.” With her mom’s well wishes, she bounded down the bleachers.
Adina Jacobs and her parents had moved to West Lafayette, Indiana in June after Dina’s mother had been hired as an assistant professor of Environmental Science at Purdue University. Dina wasn’t happy getting ripped away from her friends in New York, but her mother promised they’d go back to visit as often as they could. So far that hadn’t happened, but then again it had only been about a month and a half since they left. School in Indiana was set to start in a week, and with volleyball tryouts for the next three days, they wouldn’t get back to Long Island for a while. Maybe not even until next summer.
Dina hustled to the seventh grade court, not wanting to be the last one, and stood with the other girls. A quick count revealed about twenty-five seventh graders. There would definitely be cuts. She hoped she wasn’t one of them.
“All right, girls,” the seventh grade coach said, “because we have three full teams in here tonight, it’s important that everyone remain focused and listen. Is that understood?”
Dina nodded along with the other girls and took a deep breath to shake out her nerves. The seventh grade coach looked more like an army sergeant than a volleyball coach with her short brown hair, dark eyes, and lack of smile. Dina exchanged a worried glance with the short girl standing next to her.
“My name is Coach Matthews, but you can call me Coach.” She glanced at the clipboard in her hand. “Right now, I need you to form three straight lines for stretching.” The girls looked around at each other. “Move it.”
Twenty-five seventh graders burst into activity. In what seemed like forever, they finally formed three straight lines of roughly the same size. Dina, luckily, found a place to hide in the back row, although at five-foot-nine she kind of stuck out like the Empire State Building. She smiled at the short girl who had found a spot next to her.
“Let’s stretch,” Coach Matthews snapped.
While the coach led them through their stretching routine, Dina snuck a peek at the girls around her. She didn’t know a single one of them. The only new girls she’d met so far in Indiana were at Temple Beth Israel, and none of them went to Earhart Middle. She was all alone.
“Okay. Break into pairs,” Coach Matthews said, once they were done stretching. “One ball between you.”
“Wanna be my partner?” the short girl asked.
“Sure.” Dina was relieved she didn’t have to find a partner on her own.
The short girl grabbed a ball from the bin.
“I’m Christine Hannigan,” she said when she came back.
“Nice tuh meet cha. I’m Dina. Dina Jacobs.” She stuck out her hand.
Christine looked perplexed for a second at Dina’s outstretched hand, but then finally shook it. “Nice to meet you, Dina. Are you new here?”
“Yeah, I just moved he-uh.” They passed the ball back and forth, following the coach’s instructions.
“He-uh? Where’s he-uh?” Christine sounded confused.
“Heeeeere, I mean. I just moved here.” She over exaggerated the proper pronunciation.
“Yeah, I can tell. Your accent is way weird.” Christine smiled, and Dina knew she was teasing.
“My accent? No, seriously, youse guys are da ones wit duh accents.” She laid it on thick.
Christine laughed again. “Where are you from anyway?”
“Whatsa matta wit you?” Dina said playfully. “You can’t tell a New Yawk accent when ya hears one?”
“No way. You’re from New York?”
“Yeah,” Dina said with a laugh, “but it’s not that exciting.”
They passed the ball back and forth for a few minutes without talking, since Coach Matthews was wandering nearby. Christine bumped it a little too hard, and Dina chased it down.
“You there,” Coach Matthews called to Christine, “use your legs. Don’t just swing your arms.” She bent her legs to show Christine what to do.
Dina tossed the ball, and Christine successfully bumped it back. Coach Matthews nodded her satisfaction.
Dina passed the ball to Christine.
“Good job, Stretch,” Coach Matthews said and then headed to another pair of girls.
As soon as the coach was out of earshot, Christine started giggling. “She called you Stretch.”
“Yeah, I heard.” Dina didn’t have time to think about it because Coach Matthews changed the drill to setting. They spent a few hectic minutes setting and then moved on to flat-footed kills and digs.
“Laps,” Coach Matthews barked when they finished the kill-and-dig drill.
Dina stood in line behind Christine at one of the two water fountains. She was still a little breathless after what seemed like six hundred laps. “Hey, Christine, did ya play on yer sixth grade team he-uh?” Dina laughed. “heeeere. Did you play here?” She groaned in frustration. Not speaking New Yorkese was hard.
“Uh huh. Did you play at your school last year?”
“Yeah.” Dina took a long drink and then another quick one. “I played on a club team, too. The Hawkinsville Honeys.”
“I know. Seriously,” Dina said. “We all hated that name. We wanted tuh be the Hawkinsville Hornets or somethin’ cool, but our coach wouldn’t change it.”
“I want to try out for a club team this year,” Christine said. “The West Lafayette Landsharks. They travel all over. They even went to Chicago last year.”
“They did?” Dina had never been to Chicago.
“Yeah, but you have to be invited to try out. And I won’t get invited, like, ever.”
Dina opened her mouth to reassure Christine, but Coach Matthews started counting down. They hustled back to the court. If all the girls weren’t back on the court by the time she got to zero, they’d have to redo all those laps.
“Ten . . . nine . . . eight,” Coach Matthews continued.
Dina groaned. Two of the girls apparently didn’t hear the countdown or maybe just didn’t care, because they sauntered their way back to the court.
“Thanks to Brittany Nelson and Marguerite Dunlop you now have five more minutes of laps,” Coach Matthews said way too calmly. “Go.” She pointed to their starting point.
“Drill sergeant,” Dina mumbled under her breath. Actually, she was more upset at the girls named Brittany and Marguerite than at her new coach.
On her first lap around the court, she looked up at her mother in the stands. As promised, her mother smiled and threw her a thumbs up. Dina waved back as she ran.
“Faster,” Sergeant Matthews yelled. “And don’t cut corners.”
Dina groaned as she picked up the pace. She wasn’t sure how much more of this corn country boot camp she could take.