Her head is in the game but her heart is in Iraq

Published: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 1:43 a.m.
It's a crazy time for Angie McGinnis. She is the setter on Florida's volleyball team, which will host an NCAA regional starting today. There are finals coming up and, of course, Christmas is around the corner.
The busier the better.
No time for her mind to wander. No time to think about what might be happening. No time to miss Harry.
She tries not to think about him too much yet she wears his dog tags all the time. When the Gators play, she slides them into her right kneepad so he'll always be with her even if he's thousands of miles away.
"I'm already stressed out so I try not to let it get to me," she said. "I try to put it aside. I try not to think about it too much."
Angie McGinnis and Harry Polenychko began dating in high school in Fraser, Mich. He was a senior and she a junior. When he left high school he left Fraser, opting to join the Marines.
"I was a little scared," she said.
When McGinnis left Fraser, she was headed to Gainesville on a volleyball scholarship. When her boyfriend left Fraser, he was headed to war.
Polenychko has been in Iraq since the second week in August, serving in different capacities as a lance corporal. Currently, he's about 70 miles west of Baghdad and following his girlfriend's progress on the Internet.
"Angie is very special to me," he said via e-mail."I think about her all the time. I wasn't aware she wears my dog tags but I guess that doesn't surprise me. We are supportive of one another.
"I've been watching Angie play volleyball since she was in junior high. So you could say I keep track of the Gators as well as Angie's volleyball. I just can't wait to see her again. I'm not sharing in her success right now, but I'll be home soon and I'll be able to experience in her success no matter what she is doing because Angie is always gonna flourish!"
Flourish she has a UF, splitting the setter's role last year and taking it over this season for Mary Wise's team. At 5-foot-11, she offers a different weapon for the Gators and recorded the program's first ever triple-double this year.
And she has a new family now. Being so far from home and even further from her boyfriend, McGinnis has leaned on teammates and coaches for support.
"It's like a second family," she said. "We talk about it sometimes. It was going to be difficult anyway being away from my family."
The situation has made the coaches and players more aware of what is going on over there.
"Right before the (Iraqi) elections, we were all asking where he was," said Wise. "Every time I heard 'elections', that caught my attention. The good news is that he's off the tank.
"The thing about Angie is that she has stayed single-focused. That's one of her strengths. But what it does in our small volleyball world is put into perspective what's going on in the world."
Perspective has washed over McGinnis as well, accompanied by concern and pride and all of the emotions that are hardly unique to anyone with a loved one serving overseas. You think of their living conditions, the weather and most of all the danger.
You try not to allow yourself to drift into the worst-case scenarios, stay away from the daily reports of the bombings and lose yourself in the hectic pace of the collegiate athlete.
And suddenly, the finals don't seem as stressful. You see the fun in the volleyball matches even with so much at stake because you can imagine what it must be like to have even more at stake.
"It definitely puts things into perspective," McGinnis said. "My worries are nothing. Tests, volleyball, Christmas. He's going to be over there for Christmas.
"I can't imagine doing something like that for my country. I can't imagine doing what he's doing."
You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053.

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