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Photo courtesy of Jimmy Mitchell.
Ali Close suffered a severe ankle sprain the day before the season last fall, hampering her for the entire season.
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Nothing has come easy for Ali Close on the volleyball court the last few years, but that has not stopped her from making the most of her chances.
The first sign of trouble came when she sprained her left ankle in January 2015 during the club season of her sophomore year at Spain Park High School.
“The doctor told me I eventually would need surgery, but he was going to let me finish out high school,” Close said. “I rehabbed it and came back playing, summer and all that.”
To add insult to injury, or more literally injury to injury, Close suffered another setback the same week. After already being restricted to upper body workouts, she failed to follow proper procedure after a repetition in the weight room, and her right ring finger was smashed between two dumbbells.
A quick trip to the doctor repaired the fracture, and “they stitched it up right then and there.” But Close was totally out of commission for a brief time.
After rehab, Close was ready to step onto the court last fall as a vital contributor for the Jags. She had the ankle taped up and a brace on top of that. But that was not enough to prevent it from happening again.
“Our setter set me far out towards the pole, and I went up and jumped and wasn’t really paying attention to the pole, and when I came down, my ankle landed sideways on it,” she said.
Just like that, she injured her ankle again, this time worse than the initial sprain.
In an unusual move, doctors casted her ankle for a week, then transitioned Close to a boot. With a season still ongoing, surgery was not an option in her mind. She was willing to do whatever it took to get back on the court and finish out the season.
After a few more weeks of rehab, she slowly eased her way back into practices, and found herself back on the court on Oct. 2, 2015. Although not near full strength, she wanted to do whatever she could to contribute.
“Honestly, I was a little scared to be playing, because I kind of had that surgery in the back of my mind. We already had it set up. I knew it was coming,” Close said.
Before the injuries, Close was a right-side hitter for the Jags, but without the ability to jump in her compromised state, she played on the back row for the remainder of the season.
Her playing time was brief, jumping in when needed. But when the Class 7A, Area 6 tournament came around, her services were required in a big way. Spain Park and Vestavia Hills went down to the wire in a five-set match, and Close summoned the strength to play the majority of the night.
“That was definitely a tough match, but I was able to come in and play and that was straight adrenaline,” she said.
She had surgery right after the season, and endured the long road back. She completed her rehabilitation in the spring, and now feels back to full strength.
“It was definitely a long process, but it feels better than it ever has,” Close said.
Those should be encouraging words for a Spain Park team with high aspirations in Kellye Bowen’s third year at the helm. Close is back on the right side, playing her normal position. There is a catch to that occasionally, though.
“To this day, if I am playing on the outside, or if there’s a rotation where I have to hit outside, if I’m set too far out, I don’t jump near the pole,” she said. “I usually just stay on the ground and try to get the ball over. Other than that, I’m back playing.”
She called the process humbling, and admitted to being devastated when she re-injured her ankle just before last season.
“God definitely used it to teach me a lesson that my plan isn’t ultimately what happens. It’s his plan that ultimately prevails. That’s a valuable lesson I learned. If that’s what it took for me to learn that lesson, then that’s what I’ll take,” she said.
Close’s three years in the varsity program coincide with Bowen’s tenure, as the Jags have gone from nine wins in 2014 to 22 wins in 2015. They said they hope to achieve even more in 2016.
“She’s phenomenal, teaching us how to play, how to interact with each other on and off the court,” Close said of her coach. “Obviously, you can’t say enough about her.”
Bowen said she expects to rely on Close to guide the team on and off the court, and commends her persevering spirit.
“She’s never given up; she’s never wavered from that, and she’s one of my strongest leaders. She’s going to play a very important role as far as that goes,” Bowen said.