The Making of a Star: Xana DiLanche
“Xana, it’s your turn,” said Mr. Vyhn. The old Quiggle looked up from his grade book and beckoned to the small pink Lutari.
Xana’s fingers were shaking so badly that she could barely pick up the paper on her desk, which contained the report she had prepared. Xana stood, feeling sick to her stomach, and made her way to the front of the class, carefully avoiding making eye contact with anyone.
As Xana unfolded the paper, she could feel the eyes of her classmates boring into her own, and her heart began to pound so hard that she was certain everyone in the room could hear it.
“Begin whenever you’re ready,” said Mr. Vyhn.
Xana only managed to read a few lines of her prepared speech when her nervousness overcame her, and she began to stutter so badly that no one could tell what she was saying. Feeling the heat rise to her cheeks, Xana tried to speak as clearly as she could, but the giggles of her classmates only increased her embarrassment, and she stumbled over every word.
“All right, Xana,” Mr. Vyhn said finally, unable to understand a word of her report. “That’s good enough.” Xana handed the paper to her teacher and went back to her seat as quickly as she could, feeling as if she were going to be sick. She did not calm down until, fifteen minutes later, she felt certain that the attention of her classmates had drifted away from her.
“I’m sorry, Xana,” whispered her best friend, a purple Peophin named Sarina. “I’m sure Mr. V will give you a good grade anyway, since you wrote a really good report.”
“I know,” Xana whispered back, “but I really thought I wouldn’t be nervous this time. I’ve been practicing reading the speech every day.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll get over your nerves someday,” said Sarina reassuringly. Xana could only hope that her friend was right.
“Great shot, Hy!” called Khilu. He and his friend gave each other a victory high five. Xana, watching from the back porch of their Neohome, smiled as she saw how much fun her older brother Khilu was having. The blue Lutari and his friend Hy, a fire Bori, had been practicing Yooyuball every day that summer since the Altador Cup had begun.
“This is almost too easy,” sighed Hy. “We need a goalie, so we can really improve our shots.”
“You’re right,” Khilu agreed. Noticing his sister sitting nearby, he called, “Hey, Xana, come here!”
“What?” asked Xana, walking across the lawn toward them.
“We need you to be our goalie,” said Khilu, “so we can practice passing and scoring with a real opponent. Please do it for us?”
Xana had never played Yooyuball before, so she wasn’t sure if she really wanted to play. “I’ll be terrible at it,” she said.
“Don’t worry,” said her brother, “we won’t laugh at you or anything. You don’t have to be nervous.”
“Okay,” Xana agreed reluctantly. She moved to stand in front of the net, which was actually a bunch of string tied to some tree branches.
Khilu and Hy spent several minutes passing the ball back and forth before Hy made a break for the net and shot the ball straight into the corner.
Xana didn’t even think about what she was doing. Seeing the ball coming toward her, she reacted instinctually. She lunged straight for the ball, arms outstretched, and caught it just before it hit the ground.
When Xana got to her feet, the ball clutched in one hand, she saw that Hy and Khilu were both gaping at her in shock.
“What?” asked Xana, suddenly feeling nervous and embarrassed. “You promised you wouldn’t laugh!”
“That was the most amazing thing I have ever seen,” said Hy. The fire Bori looked accusingly at Khilu. “Did you know she could do that? Did you teach her how or something, just to freak me out?”
“No,” said Khilu, looking stunned. “Xana’s never played Yooyuball in her life.”
“Did I do something wrong?” Xana asked, looking crushed.
“Wrong!” exclaimed Hy. “That was only the most amazing save in the history of backyard Yooyuball!”
“Is that a good thing?” Xana whispered in confusion.
“That’s a great thing,” her brother reassured her. “You’re an even better goalie than me or Hy or any of our friends.” Xana smiled in relief, glad that she hadn’t completely embarrassed herself.
“Xana, how old are you?” asked Hy, practically giddy with sudden excitement.
“Ten,” said Xana. “Why?”
“She’s only ten?” Hy said in amazement, mostly to himself. “This is crazy! Khilu, do you know what this means?”
“Yeah,” said Khilu, suddenly smiling as he shared his friend’s excitement. “Xana is our new secret weapon! The other teams won’t even know what hit them!”
Xana, Khilu, and Hy walked together toward their neighbor’s backyard, dressed in their matching Yooyuball jerseys. Some of the other boys on the street, who were the same age as Khilu and Hy, had formed their own Yooyuball teams, and now the teams were facing off against each other to determine whose team was best.
After discovering Xana’s talent for goalkeeping, Hy and Khilu had convinced Xana to be a member of their team, along with two of the boys’ other friends. Xana had been reluctant, but after spending several days practicing with her brother and his friends, she discovered that she really enjoyed playing Yooyuball. She had always been very energetic and quick on her feet, and she soon discovered that goalkeeping was the perfect use of her excessive energy.
When the three friends arrived at the makeshift Yooyuball field, their teammates and opponents were waiting for them. The massive Yooyuball Lawn Play Set had been set up in preparation for the match. As the five teammates greeted each other, the other team eyed them warily.
As Xana took her position in the goal, she was suddenly aware that, in addition to her own team members and the opposing team, quite a few pets had gathered to watch the game. Suddenly, the familiar feeling of nervousness overcame her, and Xana felt her heart begin to pound uncontrollably.
“Look at that little Lutari!” she heard someone laugh. “She’ll never last two seconds in this game!” Xana’s pulse quickened even more, and she felt sick to her stomach.
“Are you ready?” called Hy, the team captain, to all of the players.
Khilu glanced at his sister, and knew instantly what was wrong.
“No!” he called, signaling frantically at Hy, who had just crossed the field to shake hands with the opposing team’s captain.
“What’s the matter?” Hy asked, walking to Khilu’s side. The Lutari gestured to his little sister, who looked like she might be hyperventilating.
“What’s wrong with her?” whispered Hy frantically. “The game’s about to begin!”
“She gets nervous,” whispered Khilu. “She doesn’t like to have strangers staring at her.”
“Any chance she’s going to get over it in about sixty seconds?” asked Hy warily, already knowing what the answer would be.
“I’m sorry,” Khilu said, “I had no idea her nerves would be this bad.”
Khilu walked over to Xana and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Come on, Xa,” he said. “You don’t have to play today.” He lead Xana out of the net and over to the sidelines, waiting until she had calmed down.
“I have to play! I want to!” wailed Xana. “You need me, and I wanted to play, and—”
“Don’t worry,” said Khilu. “One of the defenders will fill in for you. We’ll be short a player, but that’s okay.”
“I’m sorry, Khi,” Xana whispered miserably, knowing that her brother’s team was about to lose their game.
“It’s okay,” her brother reassured her, and he returned to the field.
Watching her brother’s team struggle against their opponents, Xana knew that it was not okay. Her nerves had not only cost her brother’s team the game, but had prevented her from doing something she loved. Xana decided, from that moment on, that she would overcome her nervousness no matter what she had to do.
Xana started simply. Gathering speeches and reports that she’d written for school, she asked her family and friends to assemble in their living room. Xana then walked to the front of the room and, feeling all of them looking at her, began to read her reports aloud. The first few times, Xana was forced to stop because she had begun to stutter so badly.
After nearly a month of practicing, Xana walked out into the living room once more, holding her speech loosely in one hand. Reaching the center of the room, she looked out at the faces of her parents, her brother Khilu, Hy and the rest of her teammates, and her friend Sarina, all of whom smiled at her encouragingly.
Xana began to read. Making eye contact with every member of her audience, she read the entire report, start to finish, without missing a single word. When she was finished, everyone began to applaud.
As she gave a high five to her teammates, she knew that she had made great progress, but that there was still much more work to be done. If she was ever going to be able to compete with her team, she had to overcome her nerves once and for all.
One year later, the five team members walked toward their neighbor’s backyard once more, excited about the game. This year, the match would go differently, they were certain.
“Back again?” someone whispered. “I can’t believe they had the guts to show their faces here.”
Xana ignored their whispers. Sharing a quick high five with each of her teammates, she took her position in front of the goal, ignoring the stares of the audience who had assembled to watch the game.
Hy and the other team captain shook hands. They all took their positions, and the game began.
Hy and Khilu made a few good passes and scored quickly, but before long one of the opposing players snatched the ball from Hy’s hands and made his way toward the goal. Xana’s eyes narrowed, and she focused all of her attention on the ball’s movements as the player threw it in her direction.
The other team had already started to cheer, seeing that the ball was headed straight for the net. Xana didn’t have to think; she let her instincts take over, and dove for the ball. The cheers stopped.
Xana stood, Yooyu in hand, and threw it to Khilu. The other team, still stunned at Xana’s talent, barely had time to recover before Khilu brought the ball to the other end of the field and scored once more.
When the game was over, Xana’s teammates surrounded her, cheering wildly and congratulating her. Xana knew that they had won, but that hardly mattered. She was one step closer to overcoming her nerves.
On their walk home, Khilu amused his sister by imitating an Altador Cup reporter, using his fist as a microphone.
“So, Xana DiLanche,” he said in a deep voice, “you’ve just won your first Yooyuball match. Where are you headed from here?”
Xana grinned. “The Altador Cup,” she said.
Xana peered through the archway, looking at the stadium before her. She and her teammates were lined up, preparing to enter the field.
The screaming crowd was enormous. When she was a child, Xana never could have walked onto a field before such a crowd, let alone prepared for a Yooyuball match. Now, she ignored the crowd, and looked, instead, to the seats just above the scoreboard, where she knew her family and friends were sitting. Sure enough, she caught sight of her parents, Khilu, Sarina, and Hy, all waving Shenkuu flags in the air and yelling Xana’s name.
Xana took a few slow, deep breaths. Despite all she had done to overcome her nerves, she knew that her nerves would still be a challenge for her. Even so, she had come such a long way; the fact that she was standing here, on her way to her first Yooyuball match in the Altador Cup, was proof that she had made great progress in overcoming her greatest weakness.
As Team Shenkuu walked onto the field to the sound of thousands of cheers, Xana thought, not of the enormous crowd that was staring at her, but of her family and friends, cheering for her success, and Xana smiled, knowing that her nerves would not stand in the way of her performance today, or any day. She would never allow her weakness to prevent her from reaching her dreams.