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Chacon’s injury taught patience, maturity in return to volleyball

Morgan Chacon isn’t tall by volleyball standards, just 5-foot-11. But she had all of the traits that Florida State coach Chris Poole was seeking.

“When we were recruiting Morgan, what we loved about her is she had the easiness of athleticism of a Michael Jordan — she could just glide in the air,” Poole said. “So she was an amazing athlete and her jump was just so easy. Loved her work habits, her attitude out on the court. And so we were really, really excited.”

Chacon was set to make the jump from high school volleyball to Florida State and had planned to enroll early in January 2018. But in what would be her final high school match, on Nov. 4, 2017, Chacon went up for an attack and came down on a teammate’s foot. Chacon broke the tibia and fibula in her right leg, the two major bones that connect the knee to the ankle.

She immediately had surgery at an Indianapolis hospital, where orthopedic surgeons inserted a metal rod in her right leg and secured it with several screws (a new tibia). The fibula was left to fuse on its own, and Chacon began rehabilitation to help her walk again. 

Chacon’s pain was physical and emotional, and she immediately was concerned for her future and whether her scholarship would still be available at FSU.

“As soon as I talked to her, I said, ‘Morgan, I don’t want you to worry. We love you. We are 100 percent behind you. And we will help you get back,’ ” Poole said. “She had already planned on coming early. She was already set to graduate in December, literally a month later. So we just stayed with the plan. ‘We’re like ‘Come here, let us take care of you, let us help you rehab. Let us get you going.’ ”

Chacon had a long way to go but received support from everywhere — from her family, high school and the volleyball community back home to FSU’s training staff. The rehab was very gradual, requiring a redshirt season and continued development leading into the 2019 season.

“When Morgan arrived at FSU, my first goal was to get her walking normally and without a limp,” said Julia Giampaolo French, who was a trainer with FSU volleyball at the time. “We worked to strengthen the entire lower body. We progressed to running and jumping by utilizing the Alter G treadmill. She also had to pass an agility test, called the lower extremity functional test. Then she returned to volleyball where building up her endurance was key.

“There were good days and bad days throughout the entire process, but Morgan always gave her best effort and worked really hard to get where she is today.”

The daily work helped Chacon take the next step and return to the court. In the 2019 season, Chacon led FSU with 320 digs and was second on the team with 254 kills and 21 aces.

“Julia, the trainer at the time, I spent almost every single day with her for a few hours,” Chacon said. “So I saw her a lot, we spent a lot of time together. And she dedicated a lot of her time to my recovery, which I will always be super grateful for, and our strength and conditioning coach at the time, Natosha (Gotlieb). She was super dedicated to putting a very specified program together for me, improving me in areas that I could improve in until I got stronger, until I healed.”

Chacon’s patience and determination has been rewarded. She leads FSU with 2.67 kills per set going into Friday’s first-round NCAA Tournament match against Kansas State and has been named to the All-ACC second team the last two seasons. Chacon has also been named to the ACC Academic Honor Roll the last three seasons and earned her Bachelor’s Degree last summer in Exercise Physiology. She is working on her Master’s Degree in Social and Sustainable Enterprises.

“It is really a miracle for her to get back to the level that we knew she was capable of playing and I know it’s been rough at times,” Poole said. “You go through an injury like that, it’s very dramatic on your body. And it’s very dramatic because you lose so much during that time period. It’s not just the broken leg. It’s not like, ‘Well, the leg’s healed now all the athleticism and speed is back.’ It doesn’t work that way. Now you’ve got to regain all of that. And you’ve got to learn to do all that again.”

Poole praised Chacon for her daily commitment through rehab and workouts to get back on the volleyball court. Chacon said she learned early on to take on the philosophy of baby steps toward a major goal.

“Focusing on little tasks, little challenges and then being happy and celebrating little wins,” Chacon said. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot. I wouldn’t change anything about the experience. I think it taught me a lot and made me grow and mature and appreciate being able to play and not taking my health for granted.”