When Nicole Spencer of South Carroll was helped off the floor after injuring her knee in a basketball game against Westminster last January, she wondered if her sports career had ended.
It's easy to understand why.
Spencer tore ligament and tendons in her knee that day and was told not to count on playing volleyball.
That failed to stop the junior. She underwent an aggressive rehabilitation campaign and has made it back to spark South bTC Carroll this fall.
The injury happened in an odd manner. Spencer went up for a shot, got bumped while in the air and landed off-balance. She heard something pop in her knee, underwent surgery soon afterward and tried to forget about volleyball.
"I've never had anything hurt like that," said Spencer. "I didn't want to push [rehabilitation], so I went along with it."
Spencer said she progressed quickly with rehabilitation and, by the summer, knew volleyball was a possibility. She played some sports over the summer and was ready when practice began.
She admits to fighting a case of nerves during the early practices. She said she fought to put the fear of injury out of her mind.
She has put that fear behind -- for the most part. Every now and then the memory of that January night pops up.
"It happens very rarely," said Spencer. "If someone goes down, even if it's not the knee, it jogs my memory."
Spencer still needs to make some concessions to the injury. She ices the knee before and after practice and sometimes during matches. Also, she wears a huge brace that stretches from mid-thigh to mid-shin.
South Carroll coach Debbie Eaton said she thinks Spencer is almost all the way back.
"I think her knee bothers her a little bit, but she never complains," said Eaton. "As far as volleyball, she's close to 100 percent."
Watching the graceful Spencer, it's hard to believe she ever had a serious knee injury.
Despite the bulky brace, she moves easily in all directions and at any speed. She can be many things on the court, from a dominating force at the net to a powerful server.
Spencer said that the more she plays, the more comfortable she becomes. As practices and games piled up, she started to play with more abandon.
"At the beginning of the season, she was a little unsure," said Eaton. "That was the first varsity sport she'd participated in since the operation."
Eaton said the Cavaliers draw a lot from Spencer. The coach said when Spencer is fired up, the team does well.
An example of that happened in the Cavaliers' four-game loss recently at North Carroll.
North Carroll reeled off the first 11 points of the match. South Carroll finally scored its first point. When it happened you'd have thought the Cavaliers had won the Carroll County title.
Spencer jumped high into the air and squealed in glee. She repeatedly jumped up and down as her teammates joined in. The Cavaliers then became much more fired up after a listless start, and, later won a game.
"When Nicole Spencer is excited, the whole team plays well," said Eaton. "Her personality is contagious."
Eaton said Spencer's positive attitude, play at the net and
consistent serves are her biggest attributes. She is a strong blocker and can score well.
"I think I'm a different player," said Spencer. "I think I'm just more aware of what can happen, what did happen."
In a few weeks, basketball practice starts and Spencer hopes to be ready. She played basketball over the summer and thinks she'll be ready to play.
Looking back, Spencer said the injury taught her a valuable lesson.
"Being out made me appreciate the time I had in practice or a game," said Spencer. "If I catch myself being lazy, it makes me think twice."