Jessie Strother didn’t care about the pain.
After sitting out Wednesday night’s loss to defending state champion Incarnate Word Academy, Strother, a freshman setter, played through her ongoing back pain to lead Hickman past rival Rock Bridge 25-20, 25-20.
Strother has been playing volleyball for the Kewpies (7-3) but seeing a chiropractor for the past few weeks because of back pain. But she said when she awoke Thursday morning she thought the pain would subside enough for the game against the Bruins (6-4).
“When we started playing I just forgot about everything because I wanted to be here so bad,” Strother, who had 11 assists, said.
Kewpies coach Greg Gunn had his doubts on whether Strother would play. He said he considered holding her out of the Rock Bridge game for the Lee’s Summit North Tournament this weekend.
Gunn wasn’t informed by the Hickman training staff until two hours before the match that Strother would be ready to play. Despite getting permission from the training staff, Gunn still had his doubts about how effective she could be.
“Even after we warmed up, I saw her wince a little bit. She was a little uncomfortable,” Gunn said. “Then I turned in the lineup, and I was still watching her and she was shaky. I was wondering if she was able to play.”
Strother accomplished her goal of getting on the court, but she labored early with a service error and some poor sets.
Many times during Game 1, she had to crouch or adjust her back and was visibly in pain and out of breath.
“She kept saying she was OK, she played well,” Gunn said.
Strother said the reason for the errors was mostly because of her back pain. But it also might have been because she was too excited in Game 1 and needed her teammates to calm her down.
Seniors Jenny Keener, MegAnn Schlader and Jessie Kemble all attempted to calm her down and get Strother to refocus for the second game.
The talks worked. Strother had back-to-back aces in Game 2.
Strother said another reason for her strong desire to play Thursday was the chance to go up against her Columbia Vipers club volleyball coach Beth Newton, the Bruins coach.
“It’s Rock Bridge and it’s Beth,” Strother said. “That’s all the reason to play right there. I thought I would be nervous to play against her but I wasn’t.”
Newton, who coached the under-16 Vipers team to a silver medal in this summer’s Show-Me State Games, said she was glad the Bruins played well against quality competition.
Strother’s opposition at setter on Thursday was Rock Bridge junior Lindsay McDaniel.
Newton said she encouraged the two to go to a volleyball camp this summer in Nebraska. McDaniel had seven assists and seven kills to lead the Bruins.
“You don’t want to go out against teams that don’t challenge you,” Newton said. “So it’s good when there’s good athletes on both sides of the court.”