CARY – Colleen Smith’s problems at this point in her life – like where and when she might continue her volleyball career – pale in comparison to what she dealt with a year ago.
Smith feels great now. Medical personnel have told Smith she is in remission from Wegener’s granulomatosis, which had started wreaking havoc on her around the time she graduated from Cary-Grove in 2011.
Smith, a 5-foot-11 setter who was recruited by Indiana, is so eager to get back on the court she hardly can stand it. But she needs a place to play.
Indiana coach Sherry Dunbar has one setter on her current roster and another coming to Bloomington in the fall. Smith, who signed a waiver making her a medical scholarship student, served as the team’s student assistant last season.
Smith has worked out and says she is ready to play, but it will not be at Indiana. Dunbar felt the Hoosiers had to move forward without Smith because she was not cleared to play by Indiana University’s medical staff. Wegener’s is a rare multisystem autoimmune disease that causes blood vessels to swell and become inflamed. It afflicts only about 10 people in 1 million and often goes a long time before being properly diagnosed.
“Physically, I feel better than I did my senior year [of high school],” Smith said. “I’m running and lifting, I feel completely different [than last year]. It’s pretty amazing. I know my body and I know I’m 100 percent ready to play. I think I could have played this past year.”
Smith has had no shortage of suitors with her new-found “free agency.” Wichita State, Illinois State and Northern Iowa are three schools in which Smith is interested. Kentucky has an assistant coach who helped recruit Smith to Indiana, but the Wildcats offered a three-year scholarship. After missing the past two seasons while undergoing treatment and working back into shape, Smith wants to get her full four years somewhere.
“It’s overwhelming,” Smith said. “I hope to figure it out soon. I love Indiana, but volleyball did not work out there, which is unfortunate. The best thing would be to leave now. It would be so much better to go now and get acclimated to the school and the girls.”
Wherever Smith goes, she will have to undergo numerous medical tests and evaluations. Dunbar explained that as a medical scholarship student, Smith was receiving her scholarship money from the university, but not from the volleyball team’s allotted scholarship money. As a medical scholarship student, Smith must be cleared by the NCAA to again receive a scholarship as an athlete.
“We had to take her off the athletic scholarship because our doctors deemed she was not able to play any longer,” Dunbar said. “Now, she’s gone into remission. We gave her full release – I don’t want to hold her back from playing. Her doctors think she can play again. I told her I’d help her with anything.”
Dunbar lauded Indiana medical personnel for diagnosing and helping treat Smith’s illness. Bubba and Krista Smith said last year they were comfortable with where their daughter was and how she was cared for. With her future in question, Dunbar said she simply could not afford to have three setters on scholarship at one time.
“We did that once,” Dunbar said. “We need more hitters at this level.”
As a medical scholarship student, Smith could not work out with the team, but she did things on her own and feels strong again. She watched and tried to learn while serving as student assistant, and now she is ready to get on with her career.
The next hurdle for Smith will be receiving clearance from the NCAA. The NCAA also has a dead period on volleyball recruiting that just ended Saturday. So things may pick up for Smith this week.
“I have a huge [medical] file. If I go on visits, I sit down with the school doctors and show them,” Smith said. “If that’s what they need to see, that’s fine. I’d be willing to do all the tests they want.”
Smith says she does not get her blood checked regularly anymore. She has been a spectator long enough.
“If I went back to Indiana [in the fall], I’d do what I do now as student assistant,” she said. “I can’t do that. Volleyball’s a big part of my life. I need to get back on the court.”