Nixa High School volleyball coach Greg Walker knew if he could keep his team together long enough, it could wait for the return of one of his key players, Kaleigh Cole.
The team has jelled, Cole is back on a part-time basis from a preseason elbow injury and the group is pointing to making an impact in district play.
“We got off to a slow start but we learned a lot. We have a lot of talent, and we’ll take what we know and put it into action. We’re starting to see results now,” Walker said.
Cole suffered an elbow injury and had to have her arm in a sling for four weeks.
“It went numb during the match. I didn’t hear a pop or anything. I went to the doctor and I knew that I had a slight fracture. I thought I would be in a sling for two weeks. It turned out to be four,” Cole said.
While Cole was recovering from her injury, the team responded by constructing a 5-1 record. Walker juggled lineups and player combinations until Cole could return on Sept. 22.
Two seniors, Destini Dulin and Emilie Davis, took over as floor leaders of the team.
“It was something we had to adjust to. Kaleigh was a setter for us for so long. It was a different dynamic not to have Kaleigh on the floor, but we didn’t lose a regular-season match until the Willard match,” Dulin said.
Walker said Dulin and Davis provided the leadership the team needed.
“They were quiet, good leaders, but having Kaleigh back is a good boost at the right time. It adds a good dynamic to the team’s overall play and approach,” Walker said.
Dulin said playing without Cole changes the way the team plays the game.
“We’re a complete team again. Kaleigh knows what she is doing. She’s a phenomenal setter. She takes control. She’s good at changing in game situations. Her return will definitely help,” Dulin said.
Davis said the loss of Cole was scary because “we were counting on her and so others had to step in.”
The loss of Cole put more pressure on Davis and Dulin to step up as leaders. But now that Cole is back on a part-time basis, “everything is going great. We love having her back,” Davis said.
Cole said it was difficult watching the action from the sidelines for all those weeks.
“It was very tough to sit and watch. I tried to do what I could on the bench and help my teammates with advice and tips. I was trying to be a leader off the court. They could ask me what I was seeing,” Cole said.
While her return has been limited to working from the back, with hitting and blocking off-limits, just being able to serve has been something she couldn’t wait to do again.
“I know I didn’t get to do everything, but I know I’m one step closer to being back all of the way,” Cole said.
And if Cole can get back to full-time play by district time, it could make a big difference for the team.
“We’re getting a quiet confidence. It we play to our potential, we could do really well,” she said.