VolleyballCandice Wiggins

The Closest I’ll Ever Get to Dunking

VolleyballCandice Wiggins
The Closest I’ll Ever Get to Dunking

It started during a play when I was coaching my Junior Varsity volleyball team at La Jolla Country Day School during training camp in August. We were on the center court; I was at what felt like the happiest place on earth, and finding myself at the beginning of my new life and career.

Coaching this team allows me to play with the girls in some of the drills, and this is the part that I enjoy most about the job—it allows me to teach, coach and lead the best way I know how: by example. I know that my energy becomes contagious and the girls respond to the approach I take to the game. For this drill, I get to set and hit against our girls, and I really like to challenge them to get them ready for the next level: Varsity. But, I make sure that I give them the space to grow, so I try to hold back as best I can.

Well, one day in mid August, everything finally made sense.  

The play started ordinarily enough. Our superstar/supermodel middle blocker Haley was on the other side, and as the ball came close to the net I made a last second split decision to forcibly dump the ball straight down on the other side, leaving the girls across the net stunned and frozen. I sheepishly laughed. “Sorry girls, but this is the closest that I’ll ever get to dunking a basketball!” They instantly relaxed and we all shared a laugh. In that moment, it all made sense to me.

A revelation that took nearly 30 years for me to realize, I suddenly understood why—that is—why volleyball. Why volleyball over basketball? To me, the answer lies in the sheer thrill of spiking the volleyball and it’s unique correlation to dunking a basketball.

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As a 5’11” woman blessed with incredible athleticism, but nothing out of this world, I have never been able to dunk, aside from dunking on lowered rims of course. The highest I ever jumped was in 8th grade, when I worked religiously on my vertical. By the end of the summer of 2000, I could touch the rim (10 feet), the only jumping goal I had ever set for myself as a hooper. I can remember the day I touched the rim; it was a special day in the dead heat of the summertime, and a day that I almost couldn’t believe. Had I not jumped and touched the rim myself, I would’ve never believed I could do it. It was one of those special moments that you share alone with yourself.  And in that split second that I made it to my greatest height, I specifically recall feeling as though I was floating in the clouds. The closest I felt to flying. In some ways it was eerie, but I also remember growing increasingly sad over the next few months. Somehow I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it again, and I was right. I never touched the rim again after that. I spent my entire basketball career playing below the rim, and the whole time I never felt like I could be as big as the game that makes it’s bread and butter on being played above the rim.

Then I switched back to the sport of volleyball and discovered the antidote.

Volleyball gives women like me the ability to finally be above something. In physical terms, this means the volleyball net, which is just below my fingertips. Just standing and reaching my hands up, I am already over the top of the net, with my fingertips reaching over. This makes the game incredibly more dynamic, as every possession is essentially played at a level that is as achievable as it is elevated.  You are able to see a height and actually get to it—an experience that most women who play basketball will never get to feel. The women’s game is growing; of course, with many women who are able to dunk at all levels. But this is not about those unique athletes; this is about women like myself who sadly can only dunk on PlayStation.

Volleyball is the great antidote: it is a sport that applauds your athleticism while celebrating your femininity at the same time—a unique experience for women in sports.

 Volleyball: The antidote.

Nothing gives me greater joy as a coach than seeing the thrill in Haley’s eyes when she reaches her arms over the net and blocks her opponent straight down. The smile and satisfaction that overwhelms her spirit cannot be replaced by anything.

More than everything else, as a player, volleyball gives me a new identity. An identity that I am so proud of, because it is the direct result of countless hours spent in the gym, over the span of several years, working religiously on a unique set of skills, training the muscles to cooperate in very specific ways. Being able to jump high, swing hard and connect to pound the ball straight down to the ground gives me a feeling of power that I have never been able to find in a basketball game. I can only imagine that the feeling isn’t exactly the same, but quite similar to the feeling of dunking the basketball.

Playing the sport of volleyball, you are able to reach for a goal that is truly attainable. The volleyball net is positioned at a height at which all ages can compete, and no matter your skill level or physical capabilities, you can always approach the game with a certain confidence that only builds over time.

As I am rediscovering my passion for this beloved sport, I realize why I am so drawn to it, and why I have been for all of these years: I mostly long to pursue and fulfill the physical limitations heaped upon me from my previous sport of basketball. But even though the net may be lower, my standards for this sport are absolutely out of this world.

Four time All-American, WNBA Champion, Edutainer and Coach