The long-awaited volleyball postseason has finally arrived and excitement is at its peak for teams all across the state of West Virginia.
While every player is fired up to compete, no one is more excited for the postseason than Independence’s Skylar Wooten.
Last year at this time, Wooten was not only unable to participate in the postseason tournament, she wasn’t sure if she would ever play again.
“I decided to go riding on a side-by-side one day and we ended up flipping the side-by-side,” Wooten recalled. “I thought I was just bruised up. It hurt to walk a little bit, but it I didn’t really hurt that bad.”
The lack of pain was deceptive and an MRI a few days later showed some serious damage to Wooten’s spine.
“My MRI showed that I had fractured my T4 through T6 vertebrae in my spine. I was put in ICU and I wasn’t able to move for about 72 hours,” Wooten explained. “They sent me to Charleston Area Medical Center where they put me in a neck brace for about six months. I was out my whole sophomore season.
Already a month into her sophomore volleyball season, the news was devastating and hard to take for the young standout.
“I was shocked with the results and I balled because I didn’t think I had hurt myself that much. I knew I couldn’t play volleyball,” Wooten said.
Volleyball season was not the only casualty for Wooten who was also a standout on the basketball court and the softball field.
Wooten had not played volleyball until her eighth grade year, but quickly took to the game and made the varsity squad in her freshman season in Coal City.
“Her quickness is one of her biggest strengths and she is crazy athletic,” Independence head coach Kevin Bragg said.
Relegated to wearing a brace from her neck, down her back to her waist, not only did she have to live with the injury, she had to live with the fact she could not play, which was the most frustrating.
“The worst part was definitely sitting on the sideline and not getting to play with the seniors that I had gotten really close with,” Wooten said. “It actually helped me some because I learned how to better myself watching those seniors and how they played.”
Wooten endured roughly three months of physical therapy workouts, weight lifting and stretching, but was not able to play again until the following April.
“The day I got released I play a little (softball). The doctor told me that I could, but it probably wasn’t the best idea,” Wooten said, laughing. “It wasn’t painful. It hurt a little bit when I got out of the brace because I was moving muscles that I hadn’t been using for awhile.”
Returning to the softball diamond was one thing, overcoming other mental blocks was a totally different adventure for Wooten.
“I still haven’t got back on a side-by-side yet,” Wooten admitted. “I came to the (off-season) volleyball workouts and I really don’t feel any pain anymore. I was scared to dive at first. I was worried I would land the wrong way.”
It is a fear shared by her coach who describes her as a scrappy player that is willing to do anything he asks of her.
“Even after the injury, she would hit the floor and sometimes lay out. It made me worried that she wassn’t going to get back up,” Bragg said. She started as a defensive specialist before she got hurt last year. This year she is a setter and has an amazing swing as a hitter considering how small she is.”
While she will never forget the injury and what she had to endure, Wooten is now solely focused on the postseason and the task at hand.
Independence plays Nicholas County Tuesday night at Shady Spring High School in the opening round of the Class AA Region 3, Section 1 tournament.
“It feels amazing to be back. It’s absolutely amazing and I am incredibly happy,” Wooten said. “I love this team and how we work together. We try to lift each other up as much as we can. It is a great environment and they are like my family.”
The Patriots and the Grizzlies start at 5:30 p.m. with the winner playing top-seed Shady Spring afterwards.