As No. 19 dives across the floor for a dig, it is hard to believe that just a few months ago she was rehabbing almost every day from two surgeries on her right shoulder.
Junior volleyball libero Morgan O’Neill now sacrifices her body without hesitation after months of training healed a partial tear of her right rotator cuff.
“My first surgery I was standoffish about because it was so early and no one had had surgery before on the team at that time,” O’Neill said. “(The team) didn’t really know how to handle it or what it was like to not be able to play and couldn’t realize how hard it was for me.”
O’Neill had no idea about her tear until the beginning of August 2009 when she arrived at Virginia Tech as a freshman. The tear kept her from performing heavy lifting, and she was unable to reach her right arm above her head.
After realizing that simple tasks, such as writing, caused her arm to get tired, doctors realized it was time to make an appointment for surgery. Before the surgery in December, O’Neill was able to post 192 digs and 69 kills.
“For us to learn that Morgan was injured was tough because we wanted great things for her and knew how good she would be for VT,” said Chris Riley, head coach. “We needed to figure out how to manage her injury so that we could do what was best for her.”
The unexplainable injury, most likely triggered by excessive rotation from swinging over the course of her volleyball career, has caused her to miss two spring seasons and forced her into more than 12 months of rehab.
“It’s so hard not to play and I have such a big desire to play,” O’Neill said. “Having this surgery makes me appreciate playing every day so much more.”
Even though she was unable to physically practice with the team, O’Neill still attended every practice. Instead of being on the floor with her teammates though, she ran Cassell Coliseum stairs, keeping up her stamina until she was ready to make it back onto the court.
“Going to practice and not playing was the hardest thing,” she said. “It teaches you how to appreciate the game. Watching everyone play made me want to be more supportive and taught me how to be a better teammate.”
After six long months of rehabbing anywhere from twice a week to every day, O’Neill had regained her range of motion and was able to begin playing by the end of her freshman year.
Over the summer, Morgan took the time to practice at home until the Tech volleyball team came back for the preseason in August.
”If you hit a rut it’s all about finding the motivation to get through it,” O’Neill said. “Go for what you want and find what makes you happy.”
Upon her return, O’Neill had begun practicing at a new position — libero. The libero is usually the best defensive specialist on the court — she is responsible for digging the ball, giving the offense an opportunity to score.
This was not a position O’Neill was used to. Since the age of 13, she had played as an outside hitter, an offensive specialist that focuses primarily on attacking.
Because of her shoulder injury, O’Neill was switched to the libero, a position that focuses more on ball control rather than swinging and hitting, which would relieve her shoulder while it is was healing.