By Andrew Holman | Sports Editor
Athletes put in countless hours of tireless work over many, many years in pursuit of receiving offers to play at the collegiate level. Once they reach the college level, the work only gets tougher. However, after three years of growing and developing inside a collegiate program, an athlete’s senior season is supposed to be the best and most memorable of them all.
But sometimes life has other ideas, and that was the case with senior Lacey Levers. Levers has been playing volleyball since she was 8 years old, and the 2016 volleyball season will be her last.
Coming off her junior year in which she led the Dukes with 297 kills, 100 blocks and received Second Team All-Conference honors in the Atlantic 10, Levers undoubtedly had a bright senior campaign ahead of her. One of the leaders on her team, and one of the top middle hitters in the A-10 Conference, Levers was poised to finish off her volleyball career on a very strong note.
However, during the pre-season, an injury she suffered in her sophomore season became re-aggravated and took away all of the strength in her right shoulder. What turned out to be a labrum tear in her swinging shoulder created a major setback for Levers and threatened to mark the end of her volleyball career.
Doctors told Levers she was not allowed to lift her arm above her shoulder or swing at all, which sufficiently erased the possibility of Levers returning to her traditional position as a middle hitter.
“It just got taken away too soon,” Levers said. “So finding out that I might not be able to play the rest of the season was pretty heartbreaking, and I was upset for a long time. But all my teammates were there for me and my coaches were there for me.”
Refusing to give up, she went to head coach Steve Opperman and asked to start practicing back row, because she couldn’t stand sitting out at practices and being forced to watch her teammates have fun and play the game that she loves.
“It was extremely difficult for her at first,” Opperman said. “A lot of tears were shed, but they quickly changed to figuring out how she could best help our team. Currently, she is giving it her all and making the most of her current position with the team.”
One of the great things about sports is that they teach life lessons that go far beyond what is taught in school, and one of the many things that sports teach is to never give up.
“Over the years, [volleyball] has taught me a lot about determination, discipline and going after what you want and believe in,” Levers said.
What Levers and her teammates want is a spot in the A-10 title game and a bid into the NCAA tournament. But both pre- and post-injury Levers said the goal for her team was to dominate and she believes they still can.
Duquesne currently holds a 16-8 record, a 6-3 mark in the A-10 and has not dropped a match at home — going a perfect 9-0 at the A.J. Palumbo Center. The Dukes have played a total of 89 sets, but have been without their standout middle hitter for 57 of them.
“Obviously, as a competitive person, it sucks to stand on the sideline and watch, but everyone has been doing so great that I actually enjoy watching them play,” Levers said. “But I really feel so grateful just to be able to play with my teammates on the floor again.”
When she sat out earlier in the year, Levers helped her replacement, sophomore middle hitter Kori Johnson, develop as a player and identify weaknesses that she could exploit on the other team. Johnson is filling in nicely, as she has tallied 106 kills and 66 blocks for the Red & Blue so far this season.
But Levers is back on the floor in her new position as a defensive specialist, and she has been able to do the little things to help her team continue to work toward their goals. Senior libero Sammy Kline has guided her through her transition.
“It’s honestly amazing to have Lacey in the back row with me,” Kline said. “She has and continues to work so hard to get better, and she really communicates well. It is so exciting to be able to finish our careers off together.
This season Levers has recorded 25 kills, six assists, 46 digs and eight blocks in her 32 sets played. Her 1.44 digs per set are on pace to set a new career-high for the 6-foot-1 senior out of Washington, Pennsylvania. She recorded 10 of those digs in the Dukes’ last match versus Dayton.
The Dukes dropped the match 3-1, but defeating the Flyers 25-16 in the second set gave Duquesne a boost of confidence heading into the final portion of their schedule. Levers claimed it helped them see glimpses of the team they know they can be.
“We are working really hard right now in practice trying to fine tune everything to be that team all the time,” Levers said. “So my expectations from here on out are just working on those little things so that by the time the tournament comes around, we will be able to beat whoever steps in our way.”
In a perfect world, Levers, Kline and Maddie Burnham will finish their collegiate careers just as they began them — Atlantic 10 Champions.
However, regardless of which team brings home the conference title, the trio of seniors left their legacy on Duquesne volleyball and will forever cherish these memories.
“Definitely my teammates and all of the friendships that I made being on a team — that is what I will remember the most,” Levers said. “Every year it has been like a family.”