Through the torn ACL, the nine-month long rehabilitation and the redshirted sophomore season, Shannon Hawari felt little physical pain.
But the emotional withdrawal from being unable to play volleyball for nearly a year ate her alive.
On Sept. 6, 2009, Hawari and the then-No. 10 Cal volleyball team faced Hawaii in Honolulu. It was the middle hitter’s sixth game in 10 days, and the flight to Hawaii made her physically drained.
“It’s a long road trip,” Hawari says. “We had just played a game and everyone was fatigued. That may have been a reason for (the injury).”
The game had barely started. Cal was up by 13-11 in the first set. As the Bears were attacking, Hawari positioned herself and jumped to hit the ball quickly over the net.
But when the sophomore landed on her left foot, she immediately collapsed. She couldn’t put any pressure on her knee, but there was no severe pain. The sophomore even went behind the bench to jump around to shake it off.
“I came off the court and was freaking out,” Hawari says. “I realized that something didn’t feel right — (my leg) wasn’t going to work.”
A week later, Hawari found out that her ACL was torn. Her season was over; she redshirted and immediately joined a physical therapy program.
Hawari, now equipped with crutches, watched games from the sidelines. Countless hours of fitness training over the past summer were all for naught.
Her withdrawal from volleyball made her desperate to quench her spiking thirst. She was determined to return to the court as soon as possible.
“I was so frustrated because I had gotten so much stronger and lost it,” Hawari says. “I just wanted to get back out there as fast as possible.”
The longest Hawari had not played volleyball prior to the injury was only two months. Nine months was like a prison sentence.
The sport’s absence gave her a lot of time to think about things she normally would not. Hawari was becoming increasingly worried about the team moving without her — as teammates progressed, Hawari lagged behind in her crutches.
Her absence made her feel like she had to prove something to both her teammates and herself.
While injuries typically tame an athlete, Hawari’s injury fueled a newfound drive.
“When I came out of high school I thought my work ethic was as good as it could,” Hawari says. “I had to relearn how much I could push myself.”
Taking every physical therapy session extremely seriously, Hawari’s body responded well to the treatment. Hawari stood on a bosu ball with her strong leg, promoting muscle control and endurance. She also engaged in single-leg squatting to prevent her good leg from going limp.
“During rehab, it didn’t hurt,” Hawari says. “It was the fact that I couldn’t really hold my knee together that held me back.”
Numerous therapy sessions later, Hawari was back on the court in before the 2010 season. The only difference now was that Hawari wore a heavy brace made of titanium around her knee.
When the 2010 season began, trainers told Hawari that she could still not jump directly off her left knee. As a result, the majority of the sets she ran were in front of the setter off of two feet to take pressure off her protected knee.
“There were games where I couldn’t get off the floor because it felt so painful,” Hawari says. “Pushing my rehab and coming back really fast isn’t the best for injuries.”
But Hawari did not let the pain slow her down and started in 32 matches that 2010 season. The Bears made it all the way to the NCAA championship game that year.
The injury helped Hawari see volleyball in a new light, and it made her thankful for the time she had on the court. She now balanced her competitive drive with a sense of humility and appreciation.
“I think it was good for me because it made me appreciative of every single day of volleyball I have and every second on the court,” Hawari says.
The following season, Hawari took off the brace but never forgot the lessons learnt from it.
Now a veteran on the Cal volleyball team, Hawari kept the lessons in mind by constantly remembering her time is running out. She is thinking beyond herself — she has been heavily involved in the developments of her younger teammates.
As many of Hawari’s veteran teammates were out injured at the beginning of the season, the redshirt senior embraced the role of transitioning the five new freshmen players into the team dynamics.
“In past years there were so many talented players that always performed well,” Hawari says. “This year we’ve had to work harder for that. I think it’s going to be a good learning experience for us ultimately.”
Hawari acted as a bridge between coaches and the players, facilitating communication between the two.
“She breaks down everything and calls the team together if we’re struggling,” Cal coach Rich Feller said. “She’s kind of another coach and always asks what more she can do to improve her own game.”
When the Bears lost an agonizing game to Washington at home on Nov. 7, Hawari bolstered the squad even when her teammates wanted to fall down. Right after Cal lost in the fifth set, Hawari gathered the Bears in a huddle.
“I said I was proud of us for fighting so hard,” Hawari says. “Whether or not it’s a win, I want them to know we’re going in the right direction.”
Now with just one more game left in the regular season against No. 2 Stanford on Friday, Hawari has one last opportunity to help her Bears receive an NCAA tournament bid.
With the real possibility of Friday being her last game with Cal, Hawari has been reflecting back on her five-year stint.
“I’ve never been disappointed in any of my seasons here,” Hawari says. “Even if it’s not the ideal situation we work with what we have and stay together.”
Despite the Bears falling from a championship-caliber team to a team fighting for a postseason in two years, Hawari feels no anger or pain.
She’s just thankful she is playing on her two feet, jumping higher than ever for that perfect kill.
Andrew Davis covers volleyball. Contact him at email@example.com