Every sport has something that makes it special. In volleyball, constantly throwing your body on the ground for a ball, being divided from the other team by a net and hitting a volleyball with full force are just some of the aspects of the game I love.
There’s also no such thing as a running clock. Both teams have to fight for every point until the game is won, so players are forced to remain focused at all times during a match. The first team to win three sets in a match is victorious. Sometimes this is accomplished quickly with a 3-0 win, whereas other times the team must win all five sets. It could last minutes or it could last hours — each match is entirely unique.
Imagine with me a hypothetical volleyball match. Your team starts out strong, but quickly loses a run of points in the next rotation, which means that you need to make serious adjustments. You manage to end the set with a win. A shocking loss in the second set and a heartbreaking dropped third set means that you have one last shot — and a tiny margin of error. Nevertheless, you win the fourth set with a hard-fought victory for your team. You’ve made it to the final set.
You may be weary and tired, but your team keeps on fighting because that is what you do to get the win. A volleyball match like the one previously described is an emotional experience for the players. , It also happens to be an almost-perfect reflection of my junior season on Wheaton’s volleyball team.
At the beginning of preseason, I had numerous goals I anticipated accomplishing during my junior campaign. I thought my body had healed from the injuries incurred during previous seasons, and I believed that I was in a better situation as I switched from the middle blocker position. This was supposed to protect my knees from the numerous knee injuries I suffered while playing in the middle — that tally is now up to four knee operations over my career, including two to repair torn ACLs on both legs.
I know what you might be thinking, “Why on earth is she still playing with all those surgeries? Is she crazy?”
Well, I regularly ask myself the same thing. Is it really worth it? Maybe I should just hang up my jersey and walk away once and for all, saving my knees from any more damage. However, I always have a deep longing in the pit of my stomach, telling me that I am not done yet.
As the season progressed, I hit a few small rough spots when things were not clicking well for me on the right side. I realized that I am naturally just a better player in the middle. Ironically, I would joke to my coaches and teammates that I would play middle, again. Yet, it actually ended up happening during one of our tournaments in California.
I truly believed myself to be physically capable of playing in that position again. In first match back at middle blocker, I stuff blocked the opposing team’s right side on one of the very first plays. I felt I was back where I belonged. This was me metaphorically winning my “first set.”
I wish I could say that the rest of the season went smoothly and that my body was finally healthy for an extended amount of time, but that simply was not the case. In late September of our season, I had a rather unusual injury occur during an away conference match at Millikin. It was a rough match for us, and I just could not seem to get anything done.
All of a sudden, during the second or third set of the match while simply transitioning off the net and turning around to run a play, I felt something rip in my right foot as I was pushing off. I tried playing the rest of the rally, but ended up on the ground whimpering in pain, even though I really just wanted to scream. This was me unexpectedly dropping my “second set.”
After having an MRI on my foot, I found out that I had torn my Plantar Fascia in the heel and arch area of my foot, benching me for at least a month with a slim chance of returning this season. It was almost comical how these random, odd injuries kept happening. None of the trainers nor my coach had ever had an athlete suffer this kind of injury, so I was in the dark in terms of what rehab would look like.
Even though I was in the dark on many things, I did already know how incredibly annoying crutches are, especially since I couldn’t seem to shake them. The hope of even returning was going to be a challenge and injuries served as continual reminders of my limits and provided a good humbling lesson. This was my “third set” being lost.
While on the bench with the injury, I transitioned into different roles for the Thunder. Instead of being an active player on the court, I assisted from the bench by tracking different things that were going on during the match, such as our opposing team’s hitting trends as well as our own. This role was both a blessing and challenge for me.
It was a blessing because I was still contributing to the team in some way and was able to increase my volleyball IQ, but it was still a challenge because I would have much rather been playing.
One of the most challenging times for me was when we played against Illinois Wesleyan. I hated not playing in one of the most exciting matches of my Wheaton career. The feeling of not contributing enough is always a challenge for me, but I am so grateful to my teammates who were there to support me during this time. I thank the Lord that I get to call them my teammates, friends and sisters in Christ.
I may have had my ups and downs during the season, but it did not stop me from trying to achieve my goal of playing again. I completed my rehab exercises each day and was gradually able to increase my repetitions. There were many setbacks in my recovery and rehab process, but I tried to remain positive and remind myself that it would be for the best. Since I was in a boot for almost a month, I felt as if I had won a gold medal when I was finally able to toss it off to the side.
The rehab went so well that I was able to play in our last home match, which was a crazy five-set win against Augustana. After the match, I cried tears of joy. I was able to play another match, as well as three more after that. Those four matches were similar to the grind of a fifth set of volleyball because I was playing through foot, knee and back pain. Yet I still had the satisfaction of finishing out a season. This was me squeaking out a win for my “fourth set.”
I certainly learned some humbling lessons about making the best of whatever life throws my way, but I was also reminded of something throughout this process. I may pursue volleyball like it means the world to me, but in the grand scheme of things, volleyball doesn’t matter.
I am not eternally defined by my performance on the court, the number of injuries I sustain or really any earthly accomplishments. Instead, I am forever titled as a daughter of the Most High King. Volleyball can and will be taken away from me someday, but my salvation cannot be. This is where I can say that I have truly won my “fifth and final match.”