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Mt. Spokane's Annie Arnzen celebrates a point during a match this season. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Mt. Spokane’s Arnzen battles back from hip surgery

Chances seem remote that two senior standout Mead School District athletes would be afflicted with the same malady a year apart.

Yet Mead football lineman Mike Volz, it was revealed last week on the Prep Page, has lived with systemic onset juvenile rheumatoid arthritis since he was nine months old. Mt. Spokane volleyball star Annie Arnzen developed it at age 2.

Her mother, Karen, said it was thought to be leukemia at first. The second diagnosis led to drugs that sent the arthritis into remission by middle school.

Life, however, threw Arnzen another curve.

The Wildcats’ career kills leader learned by chance following her junior season that she had hip dysplasia, a congenital malformation that required extensive surgery last December, threatening her senior season.

“My hip had never bothered me in my life,” Annie said. “Two years ago, during the club season, I was getting up from a simple sit-up and felt a twinge.”

When she tried to run lines, the pain intensified. She went in for an MRI that revealed a torn labrum and hip abnormalities. Her femur was not completely seated into the hip socket.

Arnzen was told that her hip “could blow at any time” if she continued playing volleyball.

Tough and positive, Arnzen defied the odds.

She was still walking with the aid of a cane early this summer, but was on the volleyball court when the season opened in September. As it turned out, doctors at Tacoma General Hospital, where she had the surgery, told her volleyball was one of the better sports to play following a surgery like this.

Arnzen become enamored with volleyball in seventh grade and said she was determined to play again.

During her operation, the doctor cut and rotated the hip socket and shaved it and the femur to make a proper fit. A plate and nine screws (two since removed) were inserted. Then came the painful task of rehabilitation.

“It was tough,” Karen said. “She spent six weeks in a hospital bed here at home.”

She was attached to a CPM machine, which rotated her hip to help promote healing.

“It was always a relief when we turned (the machine) on,” Karen said. “It was on constantly. It felt good to get movement.”

Intense physical therapy followed, including time spent in a wheelchair, on crutches and finally the cane. By Mt. Spokane’s volleyball camp, Arnzen was ready to play, albeit in a different capacity.

The 5-foot-10 four-year varsity player has moved to setter from outside hitter, where she set the school kills record.

“It was because we had no setter and maybe it was better because there was no impact jumping,” Arnzen said.

Wildcats coach Dave Whitehead said that Arnzen had been a setter and front-row hitter for him in ninth grade. That year the varsity was weak on the outside, so halfway through the season she was moved to varsity.

“Honestly, she was hitting so much better than anyone,” Whitehead said. “She is the only freshman we’ve ever had on varsity.”

As a sophomore she was all-state. In 21/2 years (not including this season) Arnzen had recorded 613 kills despite missing last year’s Crossover Classic tournament because of a family commitment.

Thus, it was understandably devastating to the family when she was injured.

“She had this huge surgery reconstructing bones and we were thinking, ‘Here we go again,’” Karen said.

Even now, never knowing what could happen on the court, Karen said she worries.

“She loves it, I sit on pins and needles,” she said. “People still come up to us and say they can’t believe she’s playing. I just want her hip to be normal.”

While adjusting to setter, Arnzen said she feels herself getting stronger, even jump serving.

Arnzen was getting letters from colleges, but the surgery forced her to miss the club volleyball season and interest has waned.

Still, she wants continue her career at some collegiate level. Don’t underestimate her.

“Volleyball is huge. I don’t think there’s anything better than a volleyball game,” she said. “I was playing just because it was a fun sport. Then I realized I was pretty darned good.”