By Nate Thompson
That agony unfolded before Grand Haven’s Emily Lachmann’s eyes on Nov. 21, 2014, at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek, during the Class A state volleyball semifinals.
During the fifth-and-deciding set between the Bucs and Novi High School, Lachmann, the team’s tremendously athletic six-foot outside hitter, suffered a significant knee injury that forced her out of the match.
Without their top player, the Bucs faded down the stretch and their fairytale postseason run was over. The loss was extra bitter, since Grand Haven won the first two sets of the match before dropping the last three.
“I remember I went up for a kill and I was hitting cross-court,” Lachmann recalled. “I came down and landed on one leg and my knee buckled.
“I didn’t hear a pop, and to be honest, I don’t really remember much. I think my head might have hit the floor, so maybe that’s why I don’t remember anything.”
Lachmann tore her ACL and both meniscus in her knee. She remembers the athletic trainers asking her to try to move her leg, but the pain was so intense that she wouldn’t budge, keeping both of her legs tucked up to her chest.
She remembers eventually hobbling back to the sidelines, watching the last points play out and Grand Haven falling just short in a 15-12 final and losing the match 3-2.
“Everyone kept telling me they were going to win it for me, but Novi was a really good team,” she said. “It was really disappointing.”
Lachmann underwent successful knee surgery on Dec. 29, and the very next day began her next challenge – rehabilitation for her senior season.
For five days a week she would visit i’move, a physical therapy center in Spring Lake, and also work tirelessly at the center’s facility inside Grand Haven High School.
While there, she’d endure grueling strength-training exercises, or run on a zero gravity treadmill.
“We were with her throughout a lot of her rehab,” said Grand Haven Coach Aaron Smaka. “Obviously, you want to encourage and push her, but you also realize that she’s committed to Hillsdale (College) and she’s got four more years of volleyball there. So you don’t want to take a chance and rush her back too soon.”
Lachmann was cleared by her doctors to return to the court on July 21. Her time away from the sport gave her a greater appreciation of the opportunities she’s been given.
“I wasn’t able to play club (volleyball) and I missed it, but it was also nice to take some time off,” she said. “I watched a whole bunch of tape from the past couple years, but I was also able to focus more on school and other things in my life. It was really helpful.
“But I definitely wanted to come back as quick as I could.”
Although she’s wearing a knee brace this season, Lachmann said doesn’t think about the injury on the court. There’s still some swelling and pain after matches, a sign that she’s still in recovery mode.
But through the opening weeks of the season, Smaka said he’s seen flashes of the pre-injury Lachmann, the player who earned Class A second-team all-state honors a year ago and was five aces shy of setting the school single season record, which stands at 133.
“Right now, she’s just battling to get her endurance back,” Smaka said. “In these early-season quads and tournaments, she’s worn down a bit, but put her in a single match and she’s just as dangerous as last year.”
Lachmann said she’s striving to become more of a vocal leader on a deep Bucs’ squad, one that returns six players from a year ago and is currently ranked No. 4 in the state.
Individually, Lachmann is on the All-American watch list from Prepvolleyball.com, and other honors are likely to follow.
“We can go as far as we prepare ourselves for,” said Lachmann, the daughter of Paul and Kathy Lachmann. “I would love to win a conference title because we haven’t done that the last two years I’ve been playing and we’ve been so close. And of course, it would be amazing to get back to Battle Creek.”
Triumphant returns aside, an opportunity for Lachmann to re-write her story on the big stage might be even sweeter.