UNM Hall of Honor: Ex-volleyball great Fairchild overcomes obstacles - Albuquerque Journal

UNM Hall of Honor: Ex-volleyball great Fairchild overcomes obstacles

St. Pius' head coach Jeanne Fairchild high fives her team during a timeout against La Cueva high School Friday night at St. Pius High School. Roberto E. Rosales/Journal
St. Pius’ head coach Jeanne Fairchild high fives her team during a timeout against La Cueva high School Friday night at St. Pius High School. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

 

Let’s rewind 10 years, and consider Jeanne Fairchild’s life in the spring of 2006.

One of New Mexico’s most feared volleyball hitters, and one of this state’s most dynamic talents – Fairchild is at or near the top of the list of New Mexico’s all-time prep greats – was waiting tables at an Albuquerque restaurant.

That she still had three years of college eligibility remaining were, more or less, inconsequential at this point.

She was out of the sport, by her own choice. Burned out, by her own admission.

At that precise moment, Fairchild was perhaps content to be a student, to earn a degree and to find a new niche outside of the court.

And even this is only a partial view of her struggles.

On a personal level, she was having her setbacks, too.

“My parents tough-loved me,” Fairchild said. “My mom even kicked me out, and I lived with my dad. That changed me a lot.”

Fairchild is now 29. She is in her third season as the head coach at her alma mater, St. Pius, which is the top-ranked team in Class 5A this season.

And later this week, the girl who almost left the sport entirely will be receiving an enormous accolade from her other alma mater – on Friday, Fairchild will be inducted into the University of New Mexico’s Hall of Honor.

“It’s incredible,” the always affable Fairchild said. “It’s one of the most (amazing) things I’ve accomplished, outside of being an All-American.”

Fairchild is a 2005 St. Pius graduate who led the Sartans to state championships in 2002 and 2003. The 6-foot-2 hitter with the lightning bolt for a right arm and tremendous hops had as many top Division I volleyball programs recruiting her as just about anyone ever had in New Mexico.

What hardly anybody knew was that Fairchild, then 18, was close to her breaking point.

Those early months after graduating from St. Pius were uneasy, if not unsettling.

After originally committing to Southern California, Fairchild changed her mind – her decision related to USC changing presidents, she said – and opted for the University of San Diego, another nationally ranked program.

But she stayed only one semester at USD, already beginning to wonder whether maybe her heart wasn’t in this anymore.

Yes, she made the all-freshman team in her conference, but she left California and returned home, where she enrolled at the University of New Mexico.

After a spell had passed, then-coach Kelly McKee offered Fairchild a second chance with the Lobos, and she jumped at the scholarship offer.

McKee later was replaced by Jeff Nelson, and it was under Nelson, Fairchild said, that she flourished as she closed out her unusual college career with three fantastic seasons inside Johnson Center.

“I bounced around, but I found a home with Jeff,” said Fairchild, whose Sartans were 14-2 and poised as the 5A favorite when next month’s state tournament begins at the Santa Ana Star Center.

Nelson had seen Fairchild when Nelson was coaching the University of San Francisco.

“He believed in me more than I believed in myself at that point,” Fairchild said.

Nelson coached Fairchild as a junior and senior at UNM. And Fairchild lit up Johnson Center just about every night she was in uniform.

Fairchild was an All-American in 2008, and was the Mountain West Conference’s Player of the Year as a senior. Twice she was named to the all-conference team. She still ranks third all-time with the Lobos in kills. Fairchild later played professionally in Puerto Rico and Croatia.

Bosque School employed her as an assistant for five seasons before her alma mater came calling and asked her to take over St. Pius in the spring of 2014.

With rings as a player and assistant coach (with Bosque), Fairchild has a chance to complete the trilogy this season.

And with the luxury of some age and life experience, Fairchild looks back and understands that the hard times were equally as important in her development as a young adult as were the good times.

Sure, she attended a private school most of her life. And on her 16th birthday, she got a car. There were plenty of positives. She lacked for nothing.

And yet, Fairchild admits she wouldn’t be where she is today without also having endured some hardships.

“I’m really glad it ended up working out the way it did,” she said, smiling.



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