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West volleyball fights through adversity
Lady Wolverines overcoming injuries
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West Forsyths Shelby Lance (8) and the Lady Wolverines have been beset by injury the past two weeks but hope to still celebrate when the area tournament comes around. - photo by Brian Paglia

There is an empty spot on Makena Burns’ letterman jacket she would like to fill with a patch. The West Forsyth senior volleyball player already knows what it will look like. It will be in the shape of Georgia with the year and state playoff accomplishment written in chunky block letters, and it will be there forever.

"It has to happen this year," Burns said.

But nothing has come easy for the Lady Wolverines. They have been in the throes of transition and adversity from the start, learning from a new coach with a new roster that has undergone dramatic changes because of dramatic – and confounding – injuries.

West has been frantically adjusting without outside hitters Jaz Berry and Veronica Infante the past two weeks in hopes of being ready for the Area 6-AAAAAA tournament that begins Oct. 7.

"I think they’re working hard together," West coach Jake Dickey said. "We’re getting better."

The Lady Wolverines’ season changed in just two days.

There was Berry’s injury on Sept. 10 in a match against South Forsyth. The sophomore fell to the ground with a frightening scream and had to be taken out of the gym on a stretcher. An MRI a few days later revealed the worst: torn knee ligaments forcing Berry to miss the next eight months to a year.

"A week is probably the most I’ve ever taken off [of volleyball]," Berry said. "Having to take eight months to a year off, I hate not being able to contribute to the team."

The next day at practice Infante injured her ankle on one of the last plays of practice. At the time, Infante joked about it. Ostensibly it was just a tweak. Dickey said he expected Infante back the following week.

But the ankle’s condition hasn’t improved and Dickey doesn’t know when Infante will return this season.

So Dickey started making adjustments.

Burns switched from defensive specialist to outside hitter to replace Berry during the South Forsyth match.

"I’ve never played outside," Burns said. "That was rough, because I didn’t know what to do. Surprisingly, I got a kill at least. But it’s definitely been hard."

After Infante’s injury, Gabby Bachner moved from setter to outside hitter and Chloe Lance moved up from junior varsity.

Two days, and suddenly West’s lineup had been transformed with new players, new positions and not much practice time to make everything work.

"You would expect us to be crushed," junior Shelby Lance said, "but we really played together and stepped up to the plate."

Indeed, that weekend following Berry and Infante’s injuries the Lady Wolverines went 3-1 at the Collins Hill Classic. Since losing their starting outside hitters, the Lady Wolverines are a respectable 5-5. They are now 15-16 overall and 1-3 in the area with their losses to South, Johns Creek and Chattahoochee, the Nos. 2-, 3- and 5-ranked teams in Class 6A, respectively, according to as of press time.

"They still compete," Dickey said. "That’s one of our goals is to compete for every point on every play. That’s probably an impossible goal, but it’s one we’re striving toward."

The goal feels easier to attain with Berry and Infante still around. The two attend every game and most practices. They’re available to offer tips on hitting and moral support.

"It wouldn’t be the same without them," Burns said.

Despite all of West’s adversity this season – the new coach, the new roster, the injuries, the arduous area competition – the Lady Wolverines said their team chemistry is intact.

Yes, there are tactful issues to iron out this next week and a half. But the Lady Wolverines say they are best friends, a close-knit group that continues to communicate on and off the court regardless of this season’s troubles.

They will get better in time, they hope, because they believe in each other.

"We’re good," junior Chloe Tyler said. "Our problem right now is consistency. If we get consistency down, then I think we’ll go really far, and that’s just growing as a team."