When athletes speak about how participation in sports saved their lives, it is often a reference to how their athletic ability helped them escape an unhealthy environment, earn an education or put food on the family table.
In the case of Cleveland State senior libero Alisa Hatcher, playing volleyball literally saved her life.
With the 2003 season coming to an end, the sophomore graphics design major was troubled by an ache in her side that seemed like the kind of ailment that could be caused by a tough practice. But while warming up just prior to the regular-season finale at Youngstown State, Hatcher developed symptoms that would send her to the emergency room.
"After trying to serve, it felt like someone was stabbing me in the side," Hatcher told CSU associate sports information director Alan Ashby. "I couldn't sit. It hurt to stand and I was having trouble breathing because I started to panic a little."
Despite undergoing a series of tests, X-rays and ultrasounds which didn't reveal any problems, Hatcher's symptoms did not improve. Finally, assistant trainer Kelley Becker mentioned Hatcher's condition to team physician Dr. Susan Joy, a primary care sports physician at the Cleveland Clinic.
Following an on-campus examination, Joy ordered a full battery of tests, including an X-ray that turned out to be much different than the one taken at Youngstown the week before. This time, the X-ray and subsequent CAT scan led to the discovery of a pulmonary embolism, a life-threatening blood clot in the lung.
The diagnosis was a shock to Hatcher and her family. A seemingly healthy student-athlete had a serious condition with no visible symptoms. But further tests revealed her blood contained the compound Factor V Leiden, which increases the chance of developing blood clots.
To treat Hatcher's condition, the blood-thinner Coumadin was prescribed to help the body dissolve blood clots naturally. Unfortunately, while taking the medication, she was forced to suspend her volleyball career.
But instead of dwelling on being forced to give up something she loved, Hatcher was able to focus on her good fortune of being near first-class medical care, where the proper diagnosis may have saved her life and the lives of her mother and sister.
"I think it happened for a reason," Hatcher said. "I think it happened to me because I was the young and healthy one and I could handle it. Now we are aware that we have the factor 5 in our blood. Maybe it saved my sister and my mother from something big."
Hatcher hoped to return for the 2004 season, but her hopes were dashed when she was instructed to continue her Coumadin regimen. She remained an integral part of the program, attending every practice and working on her individual skills. The toughest part of the year may have been being on the bench while CSU posted its third straight winning record and came within one game of advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
"Alisa was an important part of the team when she was healthy," head coach Chuck Voss said. "When she was first diagnosed, it brought out the fact that there is more to life than volleyball. Especially when you do a little bit of research and find out a great percentage of people who are diagnosed with this condition don't survive.
"She still came to practice every single day. She didn't travel during the fall because the doctors didn't feel it was safe for her to do that. Once spring rolled around, which was just three months after she was diagnosed, she came into the gym and did some serving and passing. She was able to do individual stuff."
But just when the CSU coaches had all but given up on getting Hatcher back on the court, she was cleared to return in January 2005. A veteran Vikings squad that was coming off one of the most successful seasons in school history would add an inspirational leader, who also happened to be one of the best passers on the team.
As a sophomore, Hatcher was second on the team with 360 digs and led the Vikings with 3.21 digs per game. Her next challenge would be earning a spot in the lineup after missing almost a year and a half of competitive practice.
"Following 15 months away from volleyball, she came back a bit rusty," Voss said. "Our other outside hitters had really taken some big strides forward. Alisa has always had great ball control, and that came back right away.
"The libero role suits her perfectly. Four weeks ago I talked to her and told her that was what her role would be. She's really accepted that role and now, instead of taking reps on the outside, she's taking extra reps in the defensive role."
Hatcher and the Vikings are off to a solid start with a 3-2 record. CSU won the Duquesne Invitational by defeating Rider, St. Francis (Pa.) and Duquesne without losing a game. Its two losses both have been in five games, including Tuesday's setback against No. 12 Ohio State, in which Hatcher tied her career high with 23 digs.
"Getting back on the court has been amazing," Hatcher said. "Things are going great. Better than expected. I'm really excited about the season."
Team of the week
Penn State defeated No. 7 USC, Western Michigan and No. 4 Hawaii to win the Hawaiian Airlines Classic. The fourth-ranked Nittany Lions have won four consecutive matches, including three against top-10 opponents, since falling to No. 1 Nebraska in their first match of the season in the College Volleyball Showcase. When PSU rallied for a 22-30, 17-30, 30-27, 30-18, 15-11 victory over the Rainbow Wahine at the Stan Sheriff Center, it marked the first time Hawaii lost a match in which it held a two-game lead since since Dec. 11, 1998. Penn State's season-opening eight-game road trip will get even tougher this weekend, when it travels to Lincoln, Neb., for the Players Challenge at the University of Nebraska. The Nittany Lions will face Pacific, Pepperdine and the top-ranked Huskers for the second time this season.
Four teams ranked among the CSTV/AVCA Top 25 will be part of an eight-team field when Texas (San Antonio) plays host to the 2005 UTSA Dome Rally at the Alamodome Friday through Sunday. Friday's marquee matches include No. 19 Notre Dame taking on No. 8 USC and No. 13 Texas A&M facing No. 6 Florida. On Saturday, USC will take on Florida, and the tournament will conclude Sunday with Notre Dame playing Florida and Texas A&M meeting USC. In addition to winning this weekend's tournament, the participating teams have another goal in mind for this season -- making a return trip to San Antonio and the Alamodome for the NCAA Division I championships, which will start on Dec. 15.
Upsets shake up Top 25
After coasting through the first weekend of play, teams ranked in the CSTV/AVCA Coaches Top 25 preseason poll have started to fall victim to upsets. No. 11 Texas, No. 20 Georgia Tech, No. 22 Colorado State and No. 25 Pepperdine all dropped matches to unranked teams. No. 9 Tennessee became the first team in the top 10 to lose a match to a team outside the top 10, falling to then-No. 21 Missouri. The Tigers used that victory to climb all the way to No. 14, while the Volunteers suffered the biggest drop in this week's poll, falling seven spots to No. 16. Notre Dame, which was among the unranked teams that received votes in the preseason poll, jumped all the way to No. 19 following its five-game victory over Texas. Kansas State and Santa Clara also moved into the Top 25 this week. Georgia Tech, Colorado State and Pepperdine all dropped out of the Top 25 and into the ranks of others receiving votes.
Gophers give Nebraska scare
No. 5 Minnesota became the first team to take a game from top-ranked Nebraska this season and almost handed the Huskers their first loss. The Golden Gophers dropped the first two games and trailed 25-20 in the third, but rallied to send the match to a fifth and deciding game. Nebraska was able to hang on for a 30-27, 30-25, 26-30, 25-30, 15-12 victory at the Sports Pavilion. With Minnesota clinging to a 5-4 lead in the final game, Nebraska won five of the next six points to regain the upper hand and the Huskers went on to close out the match. The Gophers were able to stay with the Huskers by posting a 14-10 advantage in blocked shots and forcing 41 hitting errors, and Nebraska's .193 hitting percentage was its lowest of the young season. It was the second season in a row Minnesota forced the No. 1 team in the nation to go five games. But just like last year against USC in what is now the College Volleyball Showcase, the Gophers came up just short in their upset bid.
Bobcats still streaking at home
When Penn State beat Hawaii for the second time this season, the Nittany Lions put an end to the Rainbow Wahine's 39-match home winning streak. Ohio University now owns the nation's longest home winning streak with 29 straight victories at the Convocation Center. Ohio has not dropped a match at home since losing to Ball State on Sept. 28, 2002. The Bobcats will travel to Albany and Purdue for tournaments the next two weekends, so they won't have to put their streak on the line until Sept. 23, when they play host to Akron.
Two of the winningest active Division I coaches went head-to-head when Temple played at Hofstra Friday. Hofstra's Fran Kalafer and Temple's Bob Bertucci went into the match with a combined 1,170 victories. Kalafer ranks 11th in wins by an active coach, while Bertucci is 14th. The Pride defeated the Owls 30-19, 30-26, 24-30, 30-27, giving Kalafer career win No. 591. Rich Feller earned his 100th win at Cal and the 400th of his career when the Bears defeated Texas State and Morgan State, respectively. Senior outside hitter Jennifer Saleaumua became just the second player in Nebraska volleyball history to record 1,000 career kills and digs when she posted five kills in a victory over No. 12 Ohio State. She joined Eileen Shannon as the only Huskers to earn that distinction. Cincinnati redshirt freshman Jessie Nevitt set a school record for block assists in a four-game match with 11 during a loss at New Mexico State. Nevitt broke a record previously shared by Rachel Torblaa and Myanna Hellsten, and tied Torblaa's record for total blocks in a four-game contest. All three played together for the Bearcats last year. Alabama senior outside hitter Kelley Potter set a school with a .917 (11-0-12) hitting percentage in a sweep of Loyola (Chicago). The Tide broke a 15-year-old record when they hit .580 in a three-game victory over Oklahoma. Junior outside hitter Kim McGiven had a school-record 34 kills as Santa Clara beat UC Irvine in the championship match of the Holiday Inn Sunset Classic. Creighton's Leah Ratzlaff had 28 kills in 38 attacks without an error against UC Riverside, which is the most kills without an error in school history. Teammate Abby Baumann had 23 kills in 37 swings for the weekend, which marked the first time an outside hitter had three consecutive matches without an error with nine or more attacks. Junior setter Samantha Carter tied a Cal record with nine service aces in a three-game win over Morgan State. Northwestern's victory over No. 20 Georgia Tech Friday in Tucson was its first against a ranked opponent since the Wildcats beat No. 23 Wisconsin on Nov. 14, 2003. NU hopes to earn the program's 500th victory when it plays Loyola, DePaul and Illinois-Chicago in this weekend's Chicago Challenge. Northern Iowa's victory over No. 22 Colorado State was its first win over a ranked opponent since it beat No. 20 UC Santa Barbara in the 2003 NCAA Tournament.
Dave Reed has covered college volleyball for national publications since 1996.