At the end of College of Coastal Georgia’s 2012 volleyball season, coach Jeff Huebner asked each of his players to bring a list of things they wanted to improve upon with them to an exit meeting.
Jessica Fujimoto’s list was 21/2 pages long, and before she began to read the first item on it, she started crying.
“I just want to be great so bad, and I don’t know how my body is ever going to let me do it,” she sobbingly told Huebner.
Since coming to the Golden Isles from Normal, Ill., Fujimoto’s life has been anything but normal. A hip injury she has battled since the age of 15 flared up as disabling as ever toward the end of her freshman season, and it ultimately caused her to miss her sophomore season. Since the injury, not a day has gone by in which Fujimoto hasn’t been in some type of pain, ranging from minimal to agonizing.
“I just kind of thought I would be in pain for the rest of my life,” Fujimoto says. “This is how it was going to be.”
Not many players can make a tremendous improvement in their game from one season to the next without actually playing, but that’s exactly what Fujimoto has done.
Five years ago, Fujimoto dove for a dig and landed awkwardly on her right side, suffering what was originally diagnosed as a torn labrum. At 15, she was the starting libero on one of the top travel teams in Illinois, of which at the time, Huebner’s wife Erin was an assistant coach. Fujimoto had already gotten looks from Division I schools Kentucky, Central Michigan, Denver and a host of others. Many of her teammates also went on to play for prominent programs.
The injury occurred in June 2009. After undergoing surgery, she tried to get back on the court the following April, but her hip hadn’t improved.
“I dove once, and I was just like, ‘I can’t deal with this pain,’” she says. “It was a 10 out of 10 (on a pain scale). Waking up, it was at least a seven every day.”
Doctors were befuddled as to why the injury never healed properly and still are today. She saw several new physicians just last year, none of whom could offer anything new except pain medication.
At 16, she quit travel volleyball and watched as schools gradually withdrew their offers.
Only one gave her a shot.
Huebner accepted the task of jump-starting a volleyball program at Coastal Georgia, then a brand new four-year school, which is 19-1 this season and is enjoying its first-ever national top 25 ranking.
In building a contender, he’s made his Illinois roots a recruiting hotbed — 10 Mariners on the 2014 roster are from the “Land of Lincoln.”
“That was a big weight off my shoulder,” Fujimoto says. “That had been my dream — to play college volleyball.”
For Fujimoto, the volleyball court was the easiest place to deal with the pain.
The way she got out of bed in the morning, the way she had to sit at her desk in class, walking up and down stairs, or as she describes it, “stuff in your life where you shouldn’t have any pain at all” — those were the most difficult things to handle.
“The motion of getting out of bed is usually the worst,” she says.
Though playing volleyball had ultimately made her injury worse, in a way, it had also provided a respite. She lost that her sophomore season.
She chose to redshirt after one of her teammates dove into her right hip during preseason practice, triggering the pain once again.
“I was heartbroken by the fact that I couldn’t play,” she says.
She didn’t have the luxuries of consistent practice and in-game experience, but when Huebner mad
The Brunswick News