The worst day of Lauren Hanlon’s college volleyball career is ingrained in her memory.
“It was Aug. 15, 2017. It was a Tuesday,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.”
What followed that day were two years of ups and downs that brought tears, pain and, eventually, hope and renewed optimism.
“I saw a doctor one or two times a week for six months after that,” said Hanlon, a Marian Central graduate from Woodstock. “Every time I saw one, they’d ask, ‘Date of surgery?’ And I’d say, ‘Aug. 18, 2017.’”
The memories of her devastating left knee injury are fading this fall.
Three years into college, yet a redshirt freshman on the court for Xavier University in Cincinnati, Hanlon is marking new milestones since she suffered the injury that sidelined her for two years.
During preseason practices in 2017 at Xavier, Hanlon landed awkwardly after hitting a ball and tore the medial patellofemoral ligament and dislocated her kneecap.
“It was a weird, fluke thing,” Hanlon said. “When I landed, my knee just buckled underneath me.”
The force of the injury was so strong that Hanlon said about one-third of her kneecap “chipped off.”
Doctors removed the piece of kneecap and used the hamstring from a cadaver to reconstruct her ligament.
“It was really difficult for a long time,” said Hanlon, a right-side hitter who leads Xavier in kills (199) this season and twice has been named the Big East Conference Freshman of the Week.
Rather than building relationships with her new teammates, Hanlon got to know those she was around the most: the training staff, along with fellow classmates and professors.
She took part in physical therapy three times a day for up to two hours a session.
“Once I got through the more physically demanding parts of rehab and once I got my range of motion back, it was less mentally draining because I wasn’t constantly in pain,” she said.
Hanlon said the encouragement she received from coach Christy Pfeffenberger and her staff was a constant source of positivity.
“They never gave up on me, even when none of us was really sure if I was going to be back to what I was expected to be,” she said. “They kept telling me, ‘We believe in you. You’re going to get back.’”
She began spending more time around her teammates in the first year after the injury, then rehab hit a snag. Gains slowed dramatically about eight months after her surgery.
“We weren’t seeing any progress for a while, and I was in a lot of pain, and they didn’t know why,” she said.
So doctors decided to try a new treatment.
“They took some of my blood cells, extracted the stem cells from them, and they then injected that back into my knee to help the kneecap regrow,” she said. “It was pretty cool.
"Once I got the injections, things really started to look up.”
The injections put Hanlon on a path to recovery, but she wasn’t fully healthy to play last season.
“There were still some lingering issues,” she said.
Hanlon also started seeing a sports psychologist last year while continuing her rehab.
“That just made everything so much better,” she said. “I’ve learned that no matter what gets thrown at me, I’m going to figure out how to get through it somehow. It’s helped my determination and willpower.”
Just being back on the court is something Hanlon embraces every week with the Musketeers (9-13), who are chasing one of four spots for the Big East postseason tournament.
“I just really love volleyball,” said Hanlon, who has worked to improve her blocking this season. “It makes me so happy to go out there and play with my teammates. Regardless of the outcome, this is something I’ve wanted to do since I was little. It’s great that I finally get to do it.”
Along with making the conference tournament, Hanlon is keeping her goals simple these days.
“If you asked me that on my way in here, I probably would’ve said, ‘I want to set some records,’” she said. “Having gone through this and seeing things differently, I just want to be remembered as someone who helped lead the team, was there to help anybody and be somebody they could rely on for things on and off the court. I just want to make an impact.”
OVC’s best … times 5: For the fifth time this fall, Marian Central grad Rachel Giustino of Algonquin has been named the Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Week in volleyball.
A senior outside hitter for the Racers (15-9 overall 9-3 OVC), Giustino averaged 6.86 kills a set last week, piling up 28 kills against SIU Edwardsville and 20 against Eastern Illinois.
In the victory against SIUE, Giustino surpassed 1,599 career kills, breaking the Murray State record. For the week, Giustino hit .415 while helping the Racers to a 5-1 record over their past six matches.
She ranks fourth in NCAA Division I with 5.29 kills a set.
Fab freshman Eriksen at Loras: Prairie Ridge grad Abby Eriksen of Crystal Lake has earned first-team All-American Rivers Conference women’s soccer honors at D-III Loras College.
Eriksen, a forward, had eight goals and three assists for the Duhawks, including three game-winning goals. She scored her first career hat trick in an Oct. 23 match against crosstown rival University of Dubuque.
The Duhawks (13-5, 7-1 ARC) won their fourth consecutive regular-season conference title Oct. 26 when they beat Nebraska Wesleyan, 3-0.
On Wednesday, Loras lost its opening match of the conference tournament, 3-2, to Luther College.
Timm tops CCIW standouts: Annie Timm of Crystal Lake, a junior at D-III Augustana College, was named Oct. 31 as the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin’s Women’s Tennis Player of the Year.
Timm (Prairie Ridge) also was part of a six-member first-team group. She won the league’s No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles championships this fall, has a 61-17 career singles record and a 52-21 mark in doubles. In the first two years of her career, Timm was the CCIW No. 2 singles champ.
Timm posted a 14-3 singles record this fall and finished 11-3 in doubles.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.