By Garrett Mitchell
The best plans for success of any sports team often seem set in stone, that is, until a crack in its granite façade brings those plans crumbling down.
Such was the case during a tumultuous first half of the season for the Woodruff volleyball team.
Touted as a region championship contender and predicted by many to make a deep run in the 3A play-offs, those aspirations were cast in doubt by a rash of injuries to three key starters just a week into the 2019 campaign.
Setter Abigail Linder suffered a concussion, followed by a sever thumb ligament sprain to right side hitter Morgan Barnette, and then the most devastating, a complete tear of the anterior talofibular ankle ligament suffered by star middle hitter Brooke Bailey.
All told, the three Lady Wolverine starters would miss a combined two months of action. It was a series of setbacks that caught Woodruff coach Heather Abrams by surprise, forcing the team to readjust in a major way.
“It really took away our entire non-region schedule before we were back together as a team,” Abrams said. “As a coach, that part of the season is where you figure out which six players kind of work together given their time on the court. We had a lot of players playing out of position so we didn’t really have that opportunity. That really set us back.”
Without Linder, Barnette, and Bailey, the Lady Wolverines limped out of the gate, struggling over the season’s first few weeks. During that time, while being relegated to cheering from the bench, all three players said it gave them a new perspective on being leaders for their teammates.
“Sitting on the sideline for a month, I learned what my team was doing on the court and what they could improve in,” Bailey said. “When I came back, I was able to tell them, this is what you need to do in order to get better.”
Linder said it was hard not being on the court with her teammates, even more so as the only setter on the Woodruff roster.
“It was really hard because I’m the only setter on the team,” she said. “Another person had to step up and she didn’t really want to set. It was hard because we were unsure what to do. We tried to cheer them on. It was a struggle, but we got through it.”
Barnette, whose injury cost her two weeks, added, “I’m not used to sitting on the sidelines, but my team stepped in my place and kept things going and got a few wins for us.”
Slowly, however, the Lady Wolverines’ injured players began to return to health and, with that, so did the optimism that had been so prevalent at the start of the season.
Woodruff reeled off three consecutive region victories over Newberry, Emerald, and a nail-biting five game thriller on the road over a strong Union County team. The Lady Wolverines currently remain undefeated in conference play and on track for a number one seed in the playoffs.
“I think we all learned that you have to fight for the next point no matter what happens,” Bailey said.
Linder said that those few weeks of adversity brought the team closer together. That shines as a reflection of their renewed success.
“We grew from it,” Linder said. “We know that just because some of us are out we can fight through it and get through anything.”
Now healthy, Abrams added that she learned a lot about the character and will to win of her team and looks forward to what the rest of the season has in store.
“This is a group of young ladies, they want to do well on the court and off the court in everything that they do,” she said. “Those who stepped up and played out of position did so with great character and diligence. It was frustrating for them at times, but in the midst of adversity I saw their character. These are women of good character.”