Bilger Takes Comeback One Step At A Time

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For Chelsea Bilger, the last year has been nothing like she expected.

Just weeks after being named a Preseason All-Mid-American Conference East selection the then-junior tore her ACL and both meniscus in the first set of Ohio’s first home match against the University of North Carolina on Sept. 6, 2013. The outside hitter has spent the last 12 months rebuilding every aspect of her game.

“It’s tough because basically my goals this season all go with getting back to where I was and physically getting back to where I need to be because I’m not 100 percent,” said Bilger, now a redshirt junior.

Bilger underwent surgery a few days following the accident and then began a lengthy rehabilitation process. She started by developing the strength to walk again. Then she progressed to light jogging and, eventually, running. She had to rebuild lost muscle gradually throughout the early stages of her recovery.

From there she could start jumping before finally hitting the court again this preseason.

“They say for typical athletes the first year is the hardest … just trying to get back into it,” Bilger said. “I kind of started playing right when preseason started, and that was tough because I hadn’t really played in practice before that, so it was a lot at once.”

So far this season, Bilger has eased back into play, though she is not 100 percent physically. She has played in five of Ohio’s 17 matches this season and recorded 14 kills and three blocks over 10 sets.

After being absent from the court for so long, Bilger wondered if her presence on the floor this season would throw off the lineup. She said being around a handful of familiar teammates helped her make a smooth transition.

“I think in the matches I’ve gone in it’s been really good because I’ve played with most of these girls before,” Bilger said. “With Abby (Gilleland), that would be the biggest problem, but I’ve played with Abby before and I know how she plays and I trust her and she trusts me.”

Gilleland, a junior setter, also thinks Bilger’s powerful presence has been missed on the court this season.

“Chels brings back her heavy arm,” the co-captain said. “She’s always had the heavy arm, high arm swing, and we’ve missed it. Once she gets full going again it’s going to be good for us.”

After being named to the MAC All-Tournament team her freshman year, Bilger went on to rank second in kills on the team and be named to the All-MAC First Team her sophomore season. Being confined to the sidelines for 28 matches of last season was not something she was accustomed to, but something she utilized to improve her game.

“Actually I think it really helped because it’s easy to watch and see people’s mistakes and say, ‘Oh gosh, that’s terrible,’” she said. “Then you think about it and you’re like, ‘I do those things,’ so it’s a good mental thing just to see those and tell yourself ‘Don’t do that.’”

This season, Ohio coach Deane Webb ultimately makes the game-time decision for Bilger’s role in a match based on her physical status throughout the week’s practices. He was optimistic about the impact Bilger could have on a matches throughout MAC conference and tournament

“She hits the ball with a tremendous amount of heat. More so than I would say almost any player in our conference,” Webb said. “It’s a matter for her, can she play at a high level? Can the vision get to where it needs to be to get the ball by the block? But she, without question, has a great, great arm.”

Bilger still has work to do to again become the athletic left-side hitter she was before the injury. That’s okay with her, though.

“It feels really good to be back on the court. It was funny because I thought it would be more momentous for me, but mentally it was just business and back in my home where I belong,” she said.