In 2009, Chelsea Wilkinson's volleyball season was limited because she was nursing herself back to health. And now because of her interest in taking care of other people's aches and pains, the 2010 season just might be her last.
A Jay M. Robinson senior, Wilkinson is good enough to play in college, her coach says, but Wilkinson is reluctant to entertain any collegiate volleyball offers because of her pursuit of a nursing degree and career.
Anchoring the Bulldogs' defense and providing leadership from her libero position, Wilkinson is having a fine season. She leads the team in digs (91) and has helped Robinson jump to the top of the South Piedmont 3A Conference standings with a 4-0 mark (6-3 overall).
Wilkinson has really distinguished herself as a volleyball player in the last several months. Before that, Wilkinson's highlights came mostly from her teams' accomplishments.
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She started playing volleyball in seventh grade at Harris Road Middle. Her first two high school seasons were spent with Robinson's junior varsity teams. Wilkinson remembers winning conference championships at both levels.
She started playing club volleyball for the Carolina Storm program in ninth grade.
In 2009, Robinson's varsity team had a new coach, Amber Handy, and she recognized that Wilkinson was one of the shorter players on the team. As a 5-foot-3 outside hitter, Handy thought Wilkinson might be overmatched at the net.
Despite Wilkinson's impressive jumping ability that sometimes compensated for her small stature, Handy felt the Bulldogs might be better served with Wilkinson at libero, the defensive specialist position.
Wilkinson's play, as well as that of her teammates, would be critical in the 2009 season. The SPC was balanced at the top and Robinson was one of four teams that had a legitimate shot at winning the conference championship.
The new ways she was sacrificing her body - crouching low to the floor and diving for balls - led to Wilkinson hyper extending her back. She eventually missed more than a month of the season and returned to the lineup just prior to the conference tournament.
"I went through physical therapy and did a lot of ab work and stretching," said Wilkinson. "I would go through volleyball motions while I was fixing the problem."
Ashley Strickland, a senior last season, was filling in for Wilkinson in her absence, and Handy wanted Wilkinson to "earn her position back."
By the time Robinson met Mount Pleasant in the tournament semifinals, Wilkinson was back at full steam. Against the Tigers, Wilkinson had 25 digs as the Bulldogs, which tied for third place in the regular season, upset the co-champs.
With Wilkinson fully recovered, Robinson attended team camp at Wake Forest this summer. Handy says that college coaches regularly approached her to ask about the Bulldogs' athletic libero.
Wilkinson wants to keep her priorities straight when it comes to playing volleyball in college. As a member of the Beta Club, the Juniorettes, and the vice president of her school's HOSA Club, Wilkinson is serious about her academics.
Even though Handy is confident she would make an excellent collegiate volleyball player, Wilkinson feels that athletics may interfere with her commitments such as clinical, lab and other course work to becoming a nurse.
"I don't know if they will conflict or work out," said Wilkinson. "I love volleyball, so if I had a chance to play, I would probably do both."