US volleyball star Destinee Hooker gets to work

A day before the opening ceremony at the London Games, Ricky

Hooker sent a note to his daughter Destinee.

It was time to go to work.

”The blessing is I see you as a little girl that has grown up

into a beautiful young warrior,” the note read. ”This is the time

to put on your lunch pail and play the matches with your heart and

soul.”

Destinee Hooker, an opposite for the top-ranked U.S. women’s

volleyball team, opened the Olympics with 21 points in a 3-1

victory over South Korea. The team’s second match on Monday will be

considerably more challenging: They face Brazil, the team that beat

them for the gold medal in Beijing.

Hooker, 24, is first-time Olympian after a rapid rise as one the

international game’s top players. Her graceful agility belies her

6-foot-4 frame, and she’s surprisingly strong for her thin

build.

For the games, she’s taking her dad’s advice seriously. She is

all business.

”We need to evaluate the match and try to improve on a few

things before we see Brazil on Monday,” she said after the victory

over Korea.

Ricky Hooker, once drafted by the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, is a

pastor. Destinee posted his note on her Facebook fan page.

She is the second Olympian in the family. Big sis Marshevet was

part of the 4×100 relay team that won gold in Beijing.

Both sisters were first stars at Texas. Destinee was named the

most valuable player on the team that went to the 2009 NCAA

championship, but lost to Penn State. She also won the 2009 NCAA

indoor and outdoor championships in the high jump. She finished her

career as just the second woman to win three outdoor NCAA titles in

the sport.

Hooker is one of seven first-time Olympians on the U.S. team.

Outside hitter Jordan Larson, another newcomer, had 16 points in

the opener against South Korea.

”I don’t even think about it because they’re so composed on the

court,” U.S. captain Lindsey Berg said about Hooker and Jordan

making their Olympic debuts. ”They play like vets out there.”

The Brazilians, ranked second by volleyball’s international

governing body, defeated Turkey in five sets in their first-round

match. Sheilla Castro led Brazil with 19 points, while Jaqueline

Carvalho had 13. Brazil is ranked No. 2 in the world. The United

States took over the top spot in the world rankings at the end of

2011, ending Brazil’s four-year run at No. 1.

China, Serbia, Turkey and South Korea are the other countries in

their six-team group.

Japan, Russia, Italy, Algeria, the Dominican Republic and host

Great Britain make up the other pool. The top four teams to emerge

out of each group will advance to the quarterfinals, and the medal

matches at Earls Court are set for Aug. 11.

The United States has been on a roll under coach Hugh

McCutcheon, who coached the U.S. men to the gold medal in Beijing

before shifted over to the women’s team. Under his tutelage, the

women have gone 99-37 heading into the London Games.

Hooker is one of the reasons for that success. She joined the

national team in 2010. After knee surgery early last year, she

rebounded as MVP in the 2011 World Grand Prix, and was the

third-best scorer at the World Cup – where the Americans’

silver-medal finish earned the team the trip to London.

But perhaps her rising star was best demonstrated on Saturday

night, when at one point during the match against South Korea

”Destinee Hooker” was trending on Twitter.

One Tweet even proclaimed that Hooker was USA Volleyball’s Usain

Bolt. As Londoners would say: High praise, indeed.