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Comebacks by McClendon, Griffin helping power 5th-ranked Bees

Staff Writer
Stephenville Empire-Tribune
Two of Stephenville's middle blockers, Jaydi Griffin (left) and Alee McClendon, have made successful recoveries from knee surgery to help the Honeybees gain a No. 5 state ranking.

The latest match victory for Stephenville High School’s fifth-ranked volleyball team wasn’t exactly the toughest challenge so far this season for the Honeybees. It was, however, one more positive step forward for two key senior starters who are on the comeback road after surgery.

Coach Shay Douglas’ Honeybees improved to 15-2 on the season with their quick 25-5, 25-5, 25-12 win over Lake Belton Tuesday evening at home in Gandy Gym. Douglas indicated that the Bees had a far more enjoyable time on court in that match than they had recently. They lost for the first time this season on Aug. 29, to top-ranked Class 3A Bushland, and last weekend to 15th-ranked 4A Hereford.

“We did good. It was good to see them smiling and having fun,” Douglas said of Tuesday’s rout. “They were playing loose. They were playing with confidence and having fun. Sometimes games like these are good. Most of the kids got to play, that haven’t.”

SHS also won the junior varsity contest over Lake Belton, 25-12, 25-8. Lake Belton won the Freshman A match, 25-23, 25-19, and the Freshman B match, 19-25, 25-18, 25-19.

The Bees played at home on Friday (Sept. 11) against Clyde. The next matches for SHS are set for Sept. 15 at home in Gandy Gym, taking on Salado (varsity at 6 p.m.).

Douglas noted that junior defensive specialist Reese Weyers suffered an arm injury Monday during practice, and will be sidelined for an undetermined length of time.

COMEBACK KIDS

The Honeybees, who got off to a red-hot start this season in winning their first 13 matches, have five seniors. Two of them — Alee McClendon and Jaydi Griffin — are middle blockers who each have had surgery to repair a right knee injury.

McClendon, a four-year starter, was last year’s Most Valuable Offensive Player in Stephenville’s district. Teammate Landri Withers, a junior, was last year’s Most Valuable Player in the district as well as being voted second-team all-state. McClendon received honorable mention all-state honors. Another junior, Jaylee Matthews, was a first-team all-district performer a year ago.

Both Matthews and McClendon made an impact on the varsity beginning with their freshman year, so their return to the middle for SHS has been significant.

McClendon’s knee injury occurred in January during basketball season, and she had surgery in January. Griffin missed almost all of last season, and had her surgery last September.

“With them coming back from their injuries, ” Douglas said, “we’re stronger in what we can bring to the table against our opponents. They are valuable, and they play the same roles (middle blocker).”

Douglas said that Alee has natural leadership qualities, and was voted as the team’s captain this year.

“She has that leadership, and that work ethic,” Douglas said. “She’s not going to let anything get in her way. Being an injured athlete, you come back a little smarter. I think both of them have grown to understand the game even more because they were forced to watch from the sideline. I think that helped them grow.”

Bouncing back was a little different process for Griffin, according to the coach.

“(Jaydi) took it a little tougher than Alee,” Douglas said. “Alee took this year as ‘I’m not going to let this beat me up.’ Jaydi’s was a lingering injury. Coming back from her rehab she had pain, and she was frustrated.”

Douglas, who suffered a fractured vertebra while she was a volleyball player at Tarleton State University, said she told Griffin, “Trust me, you will be able to play again.”

She also told Griffin that, “A, the team needs you. B, trust me. C, be patient with your recovery.”

ALEE MCCLENDON

McClendon suffered a torn ACL along with the lateral miniscus, and also a partial LCL tear.

“I was upset because I was losing time to play,” said McClendon, who stands 5-11. “But I also kept a positive attitude, and I knew I was going to be back, doing what I could do to get better.”

Her doctor told McClendon that he expected she would make a full recovery.

“I used the anger to push me to get back sooner,” McClendon said. “I was worried, but I knew I would try to come back no matter what.

“At first it was really hard for me because it felt like I could do more progress. I think my progress was really good. Within the first couple of weeks, I was told it was looking better than 90% of the (knee surgery) patients.”

Now, McClendon said, “I’m not scared at all. My mindset is to play like I did before. I’m just really blessed to be playing with the great players we have. Every player matters.

“I’m sure everyone’s goal is to win state. I think it is way different than last year. We can depend on everyone. One person is not carrying the whole team.”

McClendon said she wants to play college basketball, but isn’t sure where that may be. She has had conversations with Hardin-Simmons, a non-scholarship program in Abilene. But she also might be open to considering a college offer to play volleyball.

“I’m leaning more toward basketball,” McClendon said.

JAYDI GRIFFIN

Griffin said she first began to notice that there was a problem with her knee about four years ago. Her doctor eventually told her she had a partial tear of the patella tendon in her right knee, and there was a cyst as well.

“I thought it was growing pains,” said the 6-0 Griffin. “I played through it.”

Griffin’s doctor told her she had “a 50-50 shot of it healing correctly” after surgery.

“My mentality was, it would hurt me more in the long run to get surgery and come back, and then to have it taken away from me. I could have played through the pain.”

Griffin said that she is still bothered by some knee pain.

“I told myself quitting was not an option, and I made it my goal to come back,” she said. “It definitely wasn’t easy, because of the player I was as a sophomore. I wanted to come back and give my best for my team, and I didn’t know if I could give that. I came a lot farther in that amount of time than I thought I would.

“This year it was awesome that I came back, because of my team. They were very supportive, and so was my family.”

Griffin is still pondering her potential at the collegiate level, stating that playing college volleyball “originally that was my goal. My surgery changed my mindset. I was just accepted to Tarleton. I want to be a speech pathologist. Volleyball will always hold a place in my heart but I’m not eliminating it in my options.”

She said she has had conversations with Abilene Christian University, Angelo State and West Texas A&M about the possibility of playing volleyball — and that it’s “an ongoing process.”

Stephenville senior Bailey Kammerer (9) makes a return as senior libero Cali Carter moves in to help during Tuesday's straight-sets win over Lake Belton.