Paige Wiebe - DN feature

January 29th, 2014

Mariners power Wiebe back from injury

Mariners veteran power did not want to let her career end with knee injury

Josh Aldrich / Daily News
January 30, 2014 

It's amazing what the threat of never playing the game again can do to an athlete.

Vancouver Island University Mariners power Paige Wiebe was all set for a big final season with the women's volleyball team until she tore the medial collateral ligament, and anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee during practice on the eve of the Pacific Western Athletic Association campaign. At the time she was given little chance of playing during her fifth and final year of eligibility.

But she could not walk away from the sport and her teammates.

Instead, she left the door to play open just a crack by putting surgery off until April and going straight into an intensive rehab program.

"It was the most devastating thing that could have happened," said Wiebe, who will be going after he masters in occupational therapy next year. "I was really excited for this year because it was my last year. I worked really hard to come back and I feel like I have proven a lot coming back from an injury like that and still playing on it."

By the time Christmas rolled around, she had progressed the question from if she would ever play again to when.

She made her return to action three weeks ago in the Mariners' first weekend after the semester break, getting into two sets of their 3-1 win over the Douglas College Royals on Jan. 10. The next week against the Capilano University Blues, she played three sets over the two matches.

Just getting back on the floor again was an emotional experience for the White Rock native. "It was really exciting," said Wiebe, who sports a custom made Mariners' blue brace on her knee. "The girls have been really supportive and I was looking forward to it all Christmas. We started in Florida and going on it was a rush of energy, it was amazing, it felt awesome."

She reports there has been no pain in her knee after games yet.

Injuries are nothing new for Wiebe. Her career at VIU has been marred by major injuries, losing big chunks of her first three seasons to the infirmary, including a torn right meniscus that needed surgery, a badly sprained right ankle and also a fractured right fibula.

In her fourth year, however, she stayed healthy and became one of the biggest weapons in the Mariners arsenal, finishing with 132 kills in 61 sets and was named a PacWest All-star.

Expectations were there for an even bigger year, if she could repeat another healthy season.

Then, in the second last practice before their season opener, Wiebe went up for an attack and came down funny. The injury was termed a "terrible triad," said Wiebe.

"It was an awful night, I've never felt so sick to my stomach ever about a player," said head coach Shayne Hyde. "I knew how talented our team was. .. but I was thinking about Paige and the struggles she's had her whole career here. In my mind, at that point, I thought it was career ending and she'd never play again.

"For her to be where she is now is outstanding. It's a very positive, uplifting thing for our team at this point of the season."

There was more than just the emotional hit the team took from losing Wiebe. All of a sudden they had to find a way to plug a massive hole in their offence. In stepped second-year Chemainus power Megan Groenendijk, who has played some outstanding volleyball, with 93 kills in 56 sets. Watching this year has been one of the most difficult things Wiebe has had to do, but she did her best to still contribute to the team, and that meant working with her replacement.

"I was really proud of her that she could take it on like that. It was hard for me, but I'm glad she succeeded because she's the right side for the next three years," said Wiebe.

Groenendijk has played so well that she has not automatically lost her spot with the return of Wiebe. Instead, Wiebe is having to earn her way back onto the floor and prove she has her game back. It is a luxury of time that will make the M's better in the playoffs this year and next year when Groenenijk is handed a bigger piece of the offence.

"Everything happens for a reason," said Hyde. "Now Megan Groenendijk is coming out here and playing some unbelievable ball and we have Paige getting closer and closer to where she ended off. We wouldn't have that if Paige didn't get injured."

This Friday and Saturday the Mariners take their No. 2 Canadian Colleges Athletic Association ranking into Cranbrook to play the College of the Rockies Avalanche, the last place team in the PacWest.

But they are not taking the Avs lightly. They have nothing but bad memories of Cranbrook. The only two times the Mariners have missed out on nationals in Hyde's career is when COTR has hosted the PacWest championship, including this past season when they took the No. 2 ranking in the province into the tournament, but lost to the Columbia Bible College Bearcats in the semifinal.

However, Hyde says they cannot focus too much on what COTR is doing "At this point in the season we aren't even talking about other teams, it's all about our own development and our own self. .. and improving. I think this team right now is playing the best volleyball they have all year."