Knee injury doesn’t derail Levers’ dream
With three kids, Lori and Jim Levers hadn’t been on a vacation alone for nearly two decades.
But when the couple went to Hilton Head, S.C., this past summer, Lori, who’s in her first year as the head volleyball coach at Chartiers-Houston High School, received a phone call she’ll never forget.
The call came from Duquesne University and the reason was to offer her middle daughter, Lacey, a spot on the Dukes’ volleyball team – a celebratory moment for any parent, but this was different.
Different because Duquesne never wavered in its commitment to Lacey, a senior at Chartiers-Houston, when she shredded her knee during a match against Bentworth last October.
Different because it will enable Lacey Levers to play Division I volleyball, something she’s dreamed about since she was 7 years old.
And different because it will allow her to pursue her passion – nursing, specifically in a trauma unit – while remaining close to her family.
“It felt good to know that they had faith in me throughout the whole thing,” Lacey Levers said. “That I would be able to come back and do it, while all the other schools moved on to someone else.”
Seated at a table outside Chartiers-Houston’s gymnasium, Lori Levers couldn’t help but get emotional when talking about all that has gone into this.
And all that nearly disappeared when, on a back-row attack, Lacey’s foot landed backward, her knee forward, and she looked up to see a crowd of people asking if she was OK.
“Duquesne was her dream,” Lori Levers said. “And after she got hurt, of course schools back away – and rightfully so. For that school to come back, take another look at her and say, ‘We can do this.’ Of course, we were overjoyed for her.”
A strong player
Make no mistake about it, Lacey Levers earned that scholarship.
The 6-1 Levers has a punishing right-handed stroke that she has honed for years with Renaissance Volleyball Club, working with Brian Begor and John Romano.
But she’s also an above-average passer, agile and smart defensively, a rare blend of skills that prompted Begor to compare her to Magic Johnson.
“What I think really makes her a special player is that she’s got the skills of a small person,” Begor said. “Traditionally, big kids hit and block. Small kids pass and play defense because that’s what their body allows them to do. She’s big above the net but also has very good passing and defensive skills.
“I’d almost liken her to Magic Johnson. He had the size of a power forward, but he had the ball skills of a 5-10 kid.”
Levers began playing volleyball to emulate her older sister, Ashley, who’s 10 years Lacey’s senior and also started out with Renaissance.
At an early age, Levers was taught her arm swing by Begor and Romano and routinely practiced it around the house – at one point, along with her younger sister, Kylee, misfiring into a wedding present the family had bought Ashley.
“When Lacey tore her ACL, she really wanted to not get behind,” Begor said. “And the one thing that she could do was work on her arm swing. So she ended up putting a lot of time in on that.”
Which is a shame for opposing teams.
This season, Lacey Levers has averaged 18 kills per match in five section matches: wins over Beth-Center, Carlynton, Avella and Bentworth, as well as a loss to Bishop Canevin.
She’s also averaging about 16 service receptions per match.
“The thing about Lacey is that she’s a great all-around player,” Lori Levers said. “She knows every position. She knows the footwork, the release, everything for every position.
“She’s a great asset to the underclassmen because they can pick her brain for that knowledge.”
‘I didn’t want ?to think about it’
After Levers was injured against Bentworth, she asked Chartiers-Houston trainer Matt Davy whether she’d be able to play again that night.
Davies, of course, said no, but he didn’t have to: When Levers tried to stand up, she wobbled her way back to her chair.
Levers had her anterior cruciate ligament repaired Oct. 11, 2011, by Dr. Scott Schweizer at Allegheny General Hospital. The MCL she sprained would heal with rest and physical therapy, doctors figured.
Levers started the rehabilitation process six days after surgery, an endless cycle of BOSU balls, elastic bands, odd stretches and lunges. She was cleared for track – where she ran the 100- and 200-meter dashes, as well as the 4x100 and 4x400 relays – for the spring, but didn’t nearly have the speed she was used to.
She had none, really.Asked about her times when she was sprinting with a knee brace, Levers shakes her head and smiles, “I don’t even want to talk about my times.”
The rehab process continued into the summer, and Levers was cleared for volleyball in June. Now, she wears only a compression sleeve on her right knee.
“They said wearing the big brace that you get after surgery is just for your mind,” Levers said. “I didn’t want to think about it.”
Stubborn enough ?to succeed
This whole process, coupled with a summer spent caring for her dad, who was hurt badly in a car accident, sparked Levers’ career aspirations.
When the family had someone come to the house to tend to Jim’s leg wounds, Lacey shadowed the nurses and learned how to manage the IV, change his bandages and clean his stitches.
“I think part of her success is just her stubbornness ... that she gets from her dad,” Lori joked. “Even when she was young, if she wanted to do something and her mind was set on it, she was going to find a way to do it.
“It was no different than when Jim came home from the hospital. We had home nurses who didn’t really want to deal with his wounds because he was crushed from his waist down by a vehicle. But she learned to do it.”
Fortunately for Lacey, she got a mulligan on last year. Though the Bucs’ season didn’t amount to much after Lacey went down, they returned five seniors: setter Piper McLaughlin, middle front/outside Tori Foster, middle/left back Kassie Kesneck and outside hitter Julie Sliman.
Montana Johnston is a sophomore who has emerged as an impact player, and younger sister Kylee also plays a significant role.
The Bucs are 4-1 in Section 6-A, 12-3 overall after Tuesday’s home win over Bentworth – a match highlighted by 30 kills, 30 service receptions and 15 digs from Lacey – and come playoff time, provided Levers’ right knee holds up, they should be ready to make a run in the WPIAL Class A playoffs.
“I was really upset when I got hurt,” Levers said. “Initially because I got hurt in the biggest game of our season, but after, I saw our girls going slowly downhill, I was thinking, ‘I could be out there helping them right now.’
“It was definitely heartbreaking, but finally I can be back out there.”