Knee injuries can’t stop BYU volleyball’s ‘energizer bunny’

Mary Lake (18) celebrates with teammates during a game against Utah on Sept. 13. (Abigail Keenan)

It was just another routine play as Palm Springs High senior libero Mary Lake jumped up to spike the volleyball on the other side of the net.

However, there was nothing routine about what happened next.

“We were playing doubles and Mary went up to hit a ball that was set a little tight,” Palm Springs coach Gary Wilhoite said. “She came down and her knee blew up. She fell down and let out a blood-curdling scream, and we knew it was trouble.”

Lake tore her ACL and her high school playing days were over.

“It was really hard,” Lake said about tearing her ACL. “Coming back from it definitely wasn’t a walk in the park.”

Although she did have her final year cut short, her career at Palm Springs was nothing short of phenomenal, as her stats were among the best the school had ever seen.

Lake had a total of 404 digs her freshman and sophomore years playing varsity and 963 assists. Her junior year, however, she nearly doubled her career total of digs with 386 and added 614 assists.

Not only did the stats show just how good Lake was that year, but she also led her team to a CIF Southern Section Division 2A championship — the equivalent of a state championship in most other states. It was the team’s first and only CIF championship of its entire history.

“Mary was practically the whole reason we won that CIF championship,” Wilhoite said.

After a dream ending to a solid junior year, a big senior year was inevitable for Lake. However, one wrong landing made it so the 5-foot-7-inch libero never got the chance to find out.

Lake, however, had already accepted a scholarship offer from BYU at the time and was planning on graduating from high school early to start training with the Cougars. Although she was nervous to inform the coaches at BYU about the injury, they kept their faith in Lake that she would make a speedy recovery and return to full strength.

“The scariest call was when I talked to the coaches here (at BYU) after I tore my ACL,” Lake said. “But they were actually so nice to me about it. They told me, ‘We’re not worried, you’ll rehab and you’ll be fine, so just stay positive.’ That was the most calming thing, just how great the coaches were with me.”

Mary Lake prepares for a dig in a game during the 2018-19 season. (BYU Photo)

After going through rehab and working hard all off-season long, Lake was ready to start her college career. However, just before the start of her freshman season, Lake injured the same knee she had just worked so hard to rehab.

“A month before my freshman season, I tore my meniscus,” Lake said. “I had to have surgery, and was out for a couple of weeks.”

Although a scary moment for both Lake and the Cougars, Lake recovered much quicker from this injury and was ready to play when the season began. BYU Coach Heather Olmstead praised Lake’s resiliency and work ethic throughout her recovery process.

“Mary’s been able to focus on what it is she wants, and so she works hard,” Olmstead said. “She was able to get in a good place to where she was able to help us out her freshman year.”

Lake had a total of 547 digs her freshman year and 120 assists. She had similar numbers her sophomore year with 533 digs and 131 assists. In the first 18 matches of her junior year so far, Lake has piled up 238 digs and 60 assists.

“Mary’s our energizer bunny,” Olmstead said. “She’s our backcourt captain. She’s talking about our seams, she’s helping the passers be steady there and she’s always going for every ball. She’s scrappy, and she brings the energy.”

Mary Lake is a big reason why No. 1 women’s volleyball is still undefeated this season. (BYU Photo)

Olmstead also talked about how important Lake has been whenever the team travels to play on the road.

“It’s easy to have energy at home, everybody’s excited to play at home,” Olmstead said. “But on the road, it’s a little different of an environment. There’s a different pressure and stress, so Mary’s good at keeping us calm and keeping us focused.”

Wilhoite said Lake has always been the ultimate competitor and wanted more than anything for her team to succeed and come out on top.

“Mary hasn’t had a whole lot of losing in her career,” Wilhoite said. “Just stay out of her way and let her go.”

Lake admits that although it hasn’t been easy, her love for the sport of volleyball is what helped her overcome both injuries.

“I think that when you love playing the sport, doing hard things just comes because you want so badly to play,” Lake said. “That’s what got me through everything. If I didn’t love volleyball so much I wouldn’t have gotten through it.”

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