By DOUG ZALESKI
Mallory Summers was poised to have a memorable season during her senior year as a volleyball player at Wapahani.
Her team was ranked No. 2 in Class 2A in the preseason poll and was viewed as a state championship contender. The Raiders lived up to the expectations during the regular season and entered the postseason two weeks ago with a 22-5 record and lofty goals.
And then Oct. 12 happened.
That was the day Summers, the only senior for Wapahani and the emotional leader of the team who plays with a “bulldog” mentality, according to coach Kati Weir, received devastating news. She was going to miss the entire IHSAA tournament season.
Summers had been experiencing difficulty breathing for a short time. Walking up steps was a difficult task. Her parents took her to the emergency room, but doctors couldn’t pinpoint the problem.
A CT scan during a visit to a cardiologist Oct. 12 revealed two large blood clots blocking Summers’ right lung, which was working at 35 percent capacity. She underwent surgery the same day to have the clots removed. Later Summers was diagnosed with pleurisy, an inflammation of the membrane lining the outer surface of the lungs and inner surface of the chest cavity.
Smaller clots remain around her lungs, and doctors are hoping to dissolve them with medicine.
But the fact remains, Summers wasn’t able to play for the Raiders this month when they won sectional and regional championships, and she’ll continue to be sidelined for Saturday’s semistate tournament against Fairfield at Logansport and the Class 2A championship on Nov. 7 if the Raiders advance.
The shocking realization that her high school volleyball career was over was difficult to digest.
“I was super emotional about it just because I love volleyball, especially Wapahani volleyball,” Summers said. “I love playing with my friends, and not being able to be out there with them just sucks. My parents are focused on my health being more important than sports, and that helped give me some relief, but it still hits me hard.”
Weir, in her second season as the Raiders’ coach, said the news hit the team and coaching staff hard, too.
“I just can’t imagine getting that news and not being able to finish out the season, especially one in which she has done so well,” Weir said. “It was particularly hard for the players because they’re such a close-knit group and they were concerned about her health.
“We’re so used to her being such a competitor and a bulldog, and seeing her go through that situation is a hard thing to understand. She’s shown such strength through this, and so has the team. I’m just proud of the strength and perseverance that the team, and especially Mallory, have shown.”
As the only senior on this year’s team, Summers has been the dominant leader of the group. Weir had several conversations with Summers before the season about what her leadership would look like.
They talked about how lonely it might feel at times and how tough it might be at certain points. After one particularly sluggish practice this season, Weir emphasized her message of leadership to Summers.
“She and I had a very real conversation about what it looked like and what she needed to do and where she needed to step in,” Weir said. “We talked about how her personality is so dominant and strong … all these players are looking to her. I felt like after that, she really bought into (the leadership) and it has made such a difference.”
Little has changed in that area since Summers has been out of action.
She isn’t on the court with her teammates, but she’s connected to them by observing from the bench and stepping in when necessary to provide an emotional boost. Players still ask her questions about certain strategies and where to be on the court.
The stakes now have gotten higher for the Raiders (27-5). If they can beat Fairfield (20-14) this week in the semistate, a potential showdown against Heritage Christian (31-3) looms in the Class 2A state championship match on Nov. 7. Heritage Christian beat Wapahani 3-0 in last year’s state title match.
“Seeing us get this far is kind of like … soothing, I guess would be the word,” Summers said. “It’s therapeutic for sure, watching the sport I love being played at such a high level … especially with some of my best friends out there playing. It kind of relaxes me.”
She said the Raiders have been envisioning a state championship ever since last summer when workouts had to be done online.
“Seeing them win would be super special to me,” Summers said. “This is something we’ve talked about just about every day.”
Summers averaged 3.2 kills per set this season, second best on the team, and ranked high in other categories while providing strong leadership.
To make up for her absence - and the unexpected loss of junior Emily Stewart before the season - the Raiders have focused on everybody else raising their level of play in very specific ways based on their abilities.
“More than anything, the lesson this year is to not take things for granted,” Weir said. “On top of COVID, we’ve had internal things happen that had such an impact. The coolest part is to see (Summers and Stewart) have such an energy and joy and desire for this team to do well, even though they don’t get to reap the benefits of playing. That is a selflessness that a team can rally around.
“Everyone had to find a way to contribute and help us click in a way that we maybe didn’t expect.”