Close behind the Cambria Historical Museum stands a 50-foot-tall Port Orford cedar tree that was planted 110 years ago. As she arrived for an interview Saturday, Nov. 21, senior volleyball standout Xue DiMaggio was dwarfed by the lush, cherished cedar.
And just as this huge tree dominates the landscape, all season long DiMaggio — through her exceptional performances on the court — has towered above Coast Union’s adversaries vis-à-vis her skills, savvy, leadership and intensity.
At this writing, DiMaggio has received the Most Valuable Player award for the Coast Valley League, and there is little doubt she will receive more honors. What is impressive about DiMaggio beyond her sports acumen, her artistic talent and her academics (she has received all A’s this school year), is her humility and grace.
Born in China and adopted by the DiMaggio family early in her childhood, DiMaggio began to believe she was going to be good at volleyball while attending Santa Lucia Middle School.
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“I really enjoyed it and I kind of excelled at it, so I wanted to pursue it.”
She broke a record for the vertical jump (a key volleyball skill) in middle school and began to think to herself, “Maybe I could pursue this.”
In the mile run while at Cambria Grammar School she was “always one of the top finishers”; she was co-MVP in eighth-grade volleyball and said to herself, “Ha — OK!” Enjoying all sporting competition, she played a spirited brand of CYAA soccer and basketball, as well.
Eager to develop her skills in a sport she loved, she began playing club volleyball with Mid Coast Volleyball in eighth grade; her coach, Doug Harbottle, “got me fired up, wanting to get better.”
In her fourth year of volleyball at Coast Union, DiMaggio led the way — sustained by talented teammates and head coach Pam Kenyon’s system — as Coast Union established a 10-0, title-clinching record in the CVL.
After a bye in the first round, Coast won the second round of the CIF 5AA playoffs before losing in the third round to California Lutheran in Wildomar, a brutal 5½-hour drive through tough Southern California traffic that left the team “pretty wiped out and groggy,” DiMaggio remembers.
Coach Pam Kenyon
At home against Calvary Murietta in that second round of the playoffs Nov. 12, DiMaggio had five kills and four aces. In the first game, Coast breezed 25-12, but the second game was a far different story. In fact, midway through the game, Coast was being buried by nine points, when Kenyon called a timeout.
DiMaggio recalls her coach’s words during that timeout. “ ‘Is this what you want? Look at the score. Look how you’re playing,’ she told us. So we picked up our energy, we picked up our talk, and we pushed through that game.”
Coast persevered and won that second game 25-21.
She is a genuinely sweet person. We all feel that. She establishes a really good relationship with you. She’s a coach, but also she’s a friend.
Xue DiMaggio on Coast Union volleyball coach Pam Kenyon
The third game was nip and tuck as the pendulum swung wildly back and forth; late in the game, Coast fell behind, and again, Kenyon called timeout. “She said, ‘Don’t be the person that thinks you have it in the bag — keep fighting.’
“That got me going,” DiMaggio explained, and indeed the home team squeezed by, 25-23, in that clinching game. Before the game DiMaggio, the team captain, took the players aside. “I said, ‘I want this for PK [Kenyon] and we need to fight for her. Let’s get this done.’”
Kenyon, who battled colon cancer in 2013 into early 2014 and had been declared cancer-free, had told the team she was back on chemotherapy. She broke the news when the team was on the way home from a match in late October.
“She came to the back of the van where the varsity sits and told us. All of us were really bummed out that the cancer had come back. She gave us each pink socks with a cancer ribbon on them.
“She is a genuinely sweet person,” DiMaggio continued. “We all feel that. She establishes a really good relationship with you. She’s a coach, but also she’s a friend.”
As brilliantly as she has played, she nonetheless insists, “I’m definitely not at my peak right now. I could always get better.”
But in order to concentrate on her studies — and possibly go out for softball — she will forgo club volleyball this winter, leaving her future in volleyball uncertain.
But her future as a scholar, an entrepreneur — “I want to start a business someday” — and as a creative artist is out there waiting for her to claim. She is researching colleges in the University of California and California State University systems for next fall, and no matter what her major turns out to be, she will certainly be involved in art.
When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said, ‘An artist.’
“I plan on doing some form of art in college,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to go without it. I always loved arts and crafts when I was younger,” DiMaggio explained in a follow-up interview.
“When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said, ‘An artist.’ ” Her work, “The Queen of the Cephalopods,” created through the use of acrylics, clearly reflects that DiMaggio is on track to achieve her art-related goals.
And no doubt when it comes to Christmas cards this season, she will do what she’s always done: “I hand-make all the cards that I give to my family.”
Freelance journalist and Cambria resident John FitzRandolph’s column appears biweekly and is special to The Cambrian. Email him at john fitz44 @gmail .com.