With a kill by sophomore right-side hitter Grace Strieker, a dream became reality for the Althoff Crusaders volleyball team on the floor last November at Redbird Arena in Normal.
In its 11th trip to the IHSA state volleyball tournament, Althoff had its first state title last year. But while the Crusaders celebrated their 25-16, 25-23 win over Chicago Resurrection in the Class 3A title match, junior Lauren Borik was at home.
Expected to play a reserve role for the Crusaders heading into the 2017 season, Borik was forced to sit out the year after fracturing her sacrum, a small triangular bone in the lower back, while participating in a volleyball camp in New Orleans in June 2017.
And so while the Crusaders celebrated in Normal in 2017, Borik was home in the metro-east, still not knowing the extent of her injury.
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“It was disappointing that I couldn’t be there with the team to enjoy winning the state championship with them,’’ Borik said. “I was very happy for them because I knew how hard they hard to worked to get there. ‘’
This weekend on the same Redbird Arena court, a healthy Lauren Borik and the current Crusaders squad will try for back-to-back Class 3A state titles. Althoff (36-4) will take on Chicago Latin (35-2) at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the second of two Class 3A semi-final matches.
The Sterling Golden Warriors (39-1) will take on the Joliet Catholic Angels (27-13) beginning at 4 p.m. in the first semi-final. The two semi-final winners will play for the state championship on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
A 6-foot outside hitter, Borik blended in well with the Crusaders large group of offensive threats which include all-state junior Karinna Gall, Katie Wemhoener and Strieker. Borik is currently third on the Crusaders in kills with 178 behind Gall (410) and Wemhoener (230). She is also second on the team with 38 blocks.
Borik has also been at her best in the postseason according to first-year coach Tony Miner.
“She’s played at a higher level in the postseason. Her hitting percentage is second on the team in the tournament,’’ Miner said. “But the fact that she is playing amazing. That she has been able to overcome all the adversity that she has had thrown her way is something in itself. She has been a real difference maker for this team this year.
“But we are a team and every member of this team has made a major impact on the success that we’ve been able to have this season.’’
Injured in New Orleans
In preparation for the 2017 season, Borik attended the prestigious High Performance Volleyball camp in New Orleans.
One day, while working out with the other campers, Borik reached back for a set that was too far back behind her, lost her balance and fell to the court.
“I went up and I had to reach back a little farther than I normally would when the player set the ball. When I landed, I felt a ‘pop,’” Borik said. “It hurt. But I figured ‘I’m here, so I’ll play with it.’’’
By the time Borik got back to the Belleville area, the pain had intensified.
Borik’s mother Melissa Borik said the next five months were tough on everybody. Several MRI’s of Borik’s back were taken and medical personnel had no explanation for the pain because no fractures were found.
“As a parent, it’s very hard to see your child in pain. And we were getting no answers as to why she was in pain. The medical people couldn’t understand why the support she was wearing wasn’t helping,’’ Melissa Borik said. “They did MRI’s on the upper back and middle of the back. It wasn’t until they did an MRI on the lower back (Pelvic) area that they found the fracture.”
“It was after the (high school) volleyball season when they found it. It was very difficult for Lauren because she couldn’t stand to sit on the bleachers because of the pain and she couldn’t travel and go to the state tournament because she couldn’t stand to ride in a bus.’’
Rehab and patience
Once the diagnosis was made, Borik began undergoing physical therapy for several months. Melissa Borik said her daughter is getting close to being back to full strength.
“The physical therapists have been wonderful to Lauren,’’ Melissa Borik said. “I would say that she’s getting close to full strength. She’s not there yet ... but she’s close.’’
Borik began working out this spring and while it was slow at first, she gradually was able to get her form back.
“It was tough to get the timing down, but once I got back into it , the swinging motion and everything that goes with it, it all started to come back,’’ Borik said. “There is still some pain and I have to ice it quite often when tightens up. But I’m just glad to be back.
“My teammates have been very supportive and we’re all for each other and cheer each other on. Not being able to play last year ... that was very difficult.’’
Borik hopes to play college volleyball next year but has not yet selected a school.