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Shaler’s Julia Bernesser works through pain for Washington & Jefferson volleyball

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W&J athletics
Shaler grad Julia Bernesser is a volleyball player at Washington & Jefferson.
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W&J athletics
Shaler grad Julia Bernesser (right) is a volleyball player at Washington & Jefferson.

Julia Bernesser never has torn her ACL. Nor has the sophomore outside hitter at Washington & Jefferson ever sustained a major knee injury in her life.

Yet, the Shaler graduate still suffers nagging pain in her knees from tendinitis.

“It started happening my sophomore year (of high school),” Bernesser said. “My junior year, I experienced pain a lot more. I saw doctors, but there’s nothing they can do to fix it. It’s pain I live with. I do things to minimize it.”

With the support of a strong athletic training staff, Bernesser has been passing her pain along to the Presidents’ opponents. Bernesser finished third on the team with 187 kills while making 25 appearances and 19 starts for Washington & Jefferson, which finished its season 14-11.

Bernesser also received an award from the Presidents’ Athletic Conference for her effort.

“Julia is a really wonderful part of our team,” first-year Presidents coach Lauren London-Law said. “I think as a person, she’s a great person and a good teammate. She’s always there for teammates.”

Handling the pain in her knees has been an ongoing progress. The training staff has worked with her on strengthening her quad muscles to help keep things in place. For the first time, Bernesser has started to wear a knee brace.

Whatever it took for Bernesser to stay on the court was important to her. Leaving the sport wasn’t an option.

“When I’m in the game playing, I don’t feel it,” Bernesser said. “I’ve been dealing with it for four years of my life. I push past the pain and play the sport I love.”

London-Law’s focus for Bernesser moving forward is improving her hitting percentage. Moving from right-side to outside hitter required a learning period.

“We’ve been talking a lot about off-block defense, about serve-receive,” London-Law said. “We’re going to work on her approach a little bit if we can. Her hitting accuracy, hitting spots we want.”

Offensively, Bernesser had a .135 hitting percentage and made 102 attack errors.

“I had never really been an outside hitter,” Bernesser said. “It was a big adjustment. I had to gain confidence and learn a new position. (London-Law) understood that and worked with me big time and (taught me) how to put the ball down. It definitely clicked.”

Most things in Bernesser’s game do.

If Bernesser can navigate the pain, London-Law believes she will be able to continue to improve the areas that don’t.

“She’s very open to feedback and constructive criticism,” London-Law said. “She’s always listening and thanks you for giving her feedback. She’s a great teammate and a team player.”

Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer.

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