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East Valley players overcoming ACL injuries

Women’s sport and the dreaded acronym ACL tend to go hand in hand. Scarcely a year goes by, it seems, when another female star is felled by a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee.

“Research shows that females are anywhere from nine to 10 times more likely to tear an ACL than a male,” said Brian Cronin, an owner of U-District Physical Therapy and Institute of Sports Performance. “It definitely shows they are more at risk.”

Lightning struck twice this spring at East Valley when returning All-Greater Spokane League hitter Allie Riggin and middle blocker Jessicca Weitman both went down at nearly the same time, each tearing the ACL in their left knee.

“It’s really weird,” Riggin said. “We both have braces on the same leg.”

The Knights were hit hard by graduation as it was. They couldn’t afford being without two of their tallest players. Both underwent surgery and rehabilitation. Both will be back at the end of September, midway through the GSL season.

EV coach Jim Dorr is hopeful for a reversal of last year when his team, ranked No. 1 in state among 3A schools most of last year, ran afoul of the buzzsaw that is GSL volleyball. Last year’s top two finishers were Lewis and Clark, which won State 4A, and Mead, which finished seventh.

“I think we had a lot of chemistry,” Riggin said. “We knew how to play well together and started off winning in Auburn. It was a real good season for us, but this is the toughest league and it was hard losing to go to state.”

Shadle Park and EV tied for third in league with 7-3 records and Mt. Spokane was a game back. In regional, GSL teams swept aside the Big Nine. For the second straight year the Highlanders denied the Knights a state berth, then went on to win the 3A championship. Mt. Spokane finished seventh.

“The nice thing about 3A, is that four of five teams make the playoffs and then whatever happens, happens,” Dorr said. “That’s the philosophy we’re taking. It doesn’t matter what you do up to that point.”

Mead, which was extremely young last year, will be favored to win league, led by USC-bound Alexis Olgard.

“We have a lot of kids back and our youngsters are more experienced,” coach Judy Kight. “I can see why they favor us.”

LC has several players back who have a new head coach, former assistant Heather Jackson. She takes over following Julie Yearout’s resignation late this summer.

Riggin was a force for the Knights last season. The 6-foot outside hitter averaged nearly 15 kills per match, leading the team in nearly every contest. To get better, she joined Spokane’s Splash program and said she was becoming more powerful at the net.

But in mid-March an awkward landing on one foot going for a hit sent her to the sidelines.

“The knee went and I went to the floor,” Riggin said. “I couldn’t move my knee. It was scary.”

As it turned out, not only was the ligament shredded, but Riggin fractured her tibia and tore meniscus.

“When I got the call from the MRI place I was pretty devastated,” she said. “I don’t want to have to relive that.”

Dorr thinks the injury could be a blessing in disguise. He said that because of her workouts she will be stronger and in better shape. Since April surgery, Riggin has worked with Cronin at U-District preparing for her senior year.

The program is two-pronged, Cronin said. In addition to therapy, Riggin is training to strengthen her core – low back, abdominal and hip muscles – as well as learning the proper way to approach and jump to protect her knees.

“Anatomically, females have wider hips and generally weaker legs,” Cronin said. “Generally they don’t jump and land well and are loading the knee. Unfortunately, the ACL is one that has to give.”

He has seen Riggin improve her balance, coordination, footwork and strength. Explosiveness will come in time, he said. The positive attributes could eventually help her continue playing volleyball in college.

“She has a gift and a great arm,” Dorr said. “You don’t normally see an arm like hers. With each year she has gotten better. I’d say her future is bright.”

Riggin played softball and basketball before taking up volleyball in the sixth grade.

“There is something about hitting a ball as hard as you can at the other side and getting a kill,” she said. “This year I think I will come back stronger and hit harder.”

That’s a must if the Knights are to finally secure that elusive state berth.