Archive

ShareThis Page
Volleyball is a therapeutic endeavor for Baldwin’s Voelker | TribLIVE.com
News

Volleyball is a therapeutic endeavor for Baldwin’s Voelker

shrvoelker111314
randy jarosz | for trib total media
Baldwin junior Mackenzie Voelker goes up for one of her patented 'slams' against North Allegheny's Meg Morningstar.

It was the night before the WPIAL championship volleyball match, and Mackenzie Voelker had no feeling in her right foot.

“I remember praying, ‘God, just let me be OK for this game,’” Voelker said. “He definitely came through for me because I didn’t feel anything.”

A few hours after that episode, Voelker racked up 23 kills against North Allegheny and was a big reason why the Lady Highlanders were crowned WPIAL Class AAA champions.

So it goes for Voelker.

Much of her junior season has been a balancing act between being counted on to score points for the undefeated Lady Highlanders, and managing her rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s joints, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

“This year has just been a roller coaster,” said the 16-year-old Voelker. “Sometimes I wake up and I can’t even move my foot. The next day I’m playing the best game of my life against NA.

“It’s just something I have to overcome in my life and it makes me stronger. Sometimes, you just have to push through it.”

What keeps Voelker going is a passion for the sport that runs in the family bloodline.

Her father, John, was a standout player at South Side High School and competed in numerous leagues around the city. He currently is the volleyball coach at St. Elizabeth Grade School, where Mackenzie began playing in fourth grade.

Voelker’s talent was obvious from the moment she stepped on the court, so she was moved up to play with the fifth graders. From that point until high school, Voelker’s talent had her playing ahead.

When she arrived at Baldwin, she became one of the few freshmen to crack the starting lineup.

Nothing — not even rheumatoid arthritis — has slowed her down.

“It’s extraordinary,” John Voelker said. “My wife (Michelle) and I, we just couldn’t be any more proud of her. We’ve always been proud of her, but this is like the icing on the cake.”

Voelker, a 5-foot-10 junior outside hitter, averaged 10 kills per match this season and paired with sophomore Maddi Sgattoni to form a formidable attack.

“(Voelker) has just been unbelievable this year,” Chris Kelly, Baldwin’s head coach, said.

Volleyball is a therapeutic endeavor for Voelker. She said the pain, which mainly affects her right big toe and foot, subsides once she gets on the court.

“I never have to talk myself into playing,” she said. “Sometimes, I have to do the opposite.”

If Voelker is going too hard, Kelly and his staff will remind her to take it easy.

“I’m so grateful for my coaches,” she said. “I just can’t say enough about them. They are so understanding about everything.”

Voelker said the medical staff at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh has given her their blessing to go out and play volleyball as long as she feels good. She made sure to ask not a moment after her diagnosis last December.

“I remember them telling me that (the diagnosis was rheumatoid arthritis), and all I said was, ‘When can I get back to volleyball?’” she said.

Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.