"It's such a joy," says Green, "so much fun, even after 11 years. When we do a good play, it feels like we're doing it for the first time." As she readies herself for the set, her fingers delicately upturned like a ballet dancer's, she does look as if she's being seized by the rush of the game for the first time. She gives the customary high fives after big points with inspired oomph.
"When everybody works together, that's what excites me," says Woodstra, a 5'9" hitter whose forearms have been pounded hairless by volleyballs. Considered the best all-around U.S. player, she seems jointless, able to curve every muscle and cell behind the ball as she moves into it.
"When it all works well, it feels like heaven," says Hyman, smiling. "That's the best way I can describe it. You feel like you're playing a song."
"Gee, did they all stay up late at a party last night or something?" a woman innocently asks, staring around the cabin of the DC-10 in which the Chinese and the U.S. players are dramatically unconscious, their bodies awkwardly folded as if they had been hastily stashed away—heads flopped forward on tray tables, legs sticking out into the aisles, big feet up on the walls, elbows jutting out, mouths wide open. Six exhibition matches in 10 days will be played on this particular tour in April, in Long Beach, Miami, Dallas, Minneapolis, Portland and San Francisco. Now, among the sleeping players there are undoubtedly enough dreaming of volleyball to get up an in-flight game.
Stewardesses should caution passengers who sit next to volleyball players. They kick, twitch, thrash, hit, block, lunge and spike balls in their sleep. "I was sitting in the middle between two people," recalls Woodstra, with some embarrassment, "and I swung my arms out and hit them both."
In perhaps the most spectacular defensive play of her career, Hyman once broke her watch crystal. "I was dreaming we were getting 21 balls [as the athletes call a hitting drill] and there was one coming straight at me, vrooom, like a line drive. I deflected and hit the armrest. When we arrived in Japan I looked at my watch to change the hour and saw then that it was smashed." She grins. "It dawned on me how it got that way."
"I had a dream last night that a ball was coming at me," says Ruth Becker, the team manager from Norwalk, Calif., who has been with the squad for six years, including a two-year leave of absence, "and I must have jumped six inches in the air." Once, during a practice in which she failed to jump a few inches out of the way, a ball struck her side with such force that a week later her appendix burst. (She has seen only one ball burst.) Becker is called Ma by everyone, including her daughter Carolyn, 25, who has a devastating serve. Ma shags balls at practice, washes uniforms on the road, calms frayed nerves, does stats during games and buys Easter eggs for the team.
Now she's in a seafood restaurant in Miami, sitting next to her husband, Paul, who occasionally assists the team. The Chinese are checking out a Chinese restaurant in another part of Miami. Across from Ma, Weishoff, a superb hitter, is making lemonade, not by spiking the lemons on the table but by painstakingly squeezing them into her ice water. From the other end of the table a few after-dinner mints come flying through the air, accompanied by raucous laughter. Outside, by the front door, a couple of players feed crackers to carp in a lighted pool. Selinger sits next to Green, who's struggling with her lobster. Smoking a cigarette, he studiously observes her efforts to excavate the meat.
"That's a lot of work for a little meat," he says after a while, amicably placing his hand on her shoulder.
She perseveres. He, of all people, should know that when the meat is that sweet, it's well worth the struggle.