Erin Fowler has taken more than her share of vacations this past fall--some planned, some not. The Calvert High School graduate, a former standout volleyball player for the Cavaliers, had planned her current trip--she's at home now for a four-week winter break--all semester.

She did not, however, plan for the journey she took in early October. Fowler, a sophomore who plays volleyball at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, awoke at 5 a.m. one morning that month to find the front lawn flooded at the off-campus house she shares with three teammates.

Fowler made a quick call to her volleyball coach, China Jude, to let her know they would all be late for practice. Instead, Jude told her not to bother coming to campus. School was closing and practice and games were canceled, all courtesy of Hurricane Floyd.

So Fowler packed up and headed for Calvert while the storm blew through.

"Yeah, I was home more this year than I thought I'd be," Fowler said, laughing. "But it's always nice to be back."

Getting back to the comforts of her family's home, however, turned out to be a little more difficult than expected.

"We were trying to get out of town when this big wave came over the car," Fowler said. "The whole street was nearly flooded instantly, but somehow we finally rode it out and got through it without any damage to the car."

It was a matter of patience and adjustment, two things Fowler has been forced to learn in her two years at UNC-W. A two-time All-Met at Calvert, Fowler was used to playing on a winning team. Despite her thin, 5-foot-9-inch frame, she was the most dominant middle hitter as a senior in the fall of 1997, when Calvert went undefeated through the regular season before losing to Northern in the regional playoffs.

Fowler was told that in college, she would move to outside hitter, but she has played all over the court. Out of necessity--and not without an abundance of hard work--Fowler's defensive game and serve have improved tremendously since her days at Calvert. Northern Coach Beth Incrocci, who also coached Fowler for two seasons on a Southern Maryland Juniors club volleyball team, used to call Fowler "a put-away hitter."

"Yeah, I used to just be known as a hitter, but now my all-around game is much better," Fowler said. "It's different in college. You have to be smart on defense and your service game has to be tough. You can't just put it over the net, you have to have placement."

Fowler started every game as a freshman in 1998, and did the same last fall. But with many of her Seahawks teammates out this season with injuries, Fowler has been thrown into an even bigger role.

Despite her efforts, and those of her teammates, UNC-W finished the season 4-24. They were 8-24 in 1998.

"It's definitely a lot different than my days at Calvert," said Fowler, who led UNC-W with 167 digs and was second on the team in kills (200) and blocks (59) in 1999. "It's hard. I like everyone on the team, and even though we're losing, we still have a lot of fun. But it's not the same as being on a winning team."

And, as much as she loves North Carolina--despite the threat of hurricanes (Fowler stayed at UNC-W through Hurricane Bonnie in 1998)--it's not the same as being at home.

"I have my Erin home for a whole week," Karen Fowler, Erin's mom, said as she made her way up the bleachers at a Calvert football game in October. "She's home because of the hurricane, but I'll take any excuse."

How about to celebrate Christmas?

"That's even better," Karen Fowler said last week. "Actually, it's perfect."