UPDATE: Constance Connolly and her Memphis Metro 17 team competed in the 17 Open division of the 2015 AAU Girls' Junior National Volleyball Championships.
After their first day of competition, we caught up with Connolly and her mom, who were both thrilled to be at Nationals.
"It feels amazing to be here," Connolly said. "Just the atmosphere and the amount of volleyball being played is awesome."
They started out slow, dropping their first two but winning their last game on the first day.
"We did a lot better this last game," she explained. "The first two games we lost, but we fought hard. We were more consistent with everything we did this last game."
Connolly said she is feeling "amazing" after everything she has been through and is looking forward to the rest of Nationals, especially winning.
"Hopefully winning," she laughed. "And that we grow closer as a team. We have a couple of new people on our team so we just want to grow closer to each other."
Unfortunately, Memphis Metro 17 E Kristen couldn't grab any more wins. They fought hard in all of their games, but couldn't quite pull on the win.
They did make it to the semifinals in the Green Division bracket, but were defeated in three sets. They finished 43rd out of 58 teams.
But to Constance's mom, the winning isn't what is the most important.
"To see her play in this tournament is just amazing," said Cindy Connolly. "She kept on saying last year that she would never make it, but she's worked extremely hard and it's great to see her back here."
Ultimately, what her mom wants out of this tournament for her daughter is for a few college coaches to see her and find a good fit for her college career. Currently, she has connected with a few college coaches but has not made a formal decision.
Congratulations to Constance and good luck in all of your future endeavors!
Written by: Amanda Szylin
Constance Connolly was coming off a successful freshman year. She was a member of the junior varsity and varsity team at her high school, St. Agnes Academy, and was one of the few freshman on the team when they took home the state championship later that year. That same year, Connolly’s club team, Memphis Metro, placed second in their age division at the AAU Girls’ Junior National Volleyball Championships.
Her sophomore year started off just as promising until things changed drastically in the fall of 2013.
Connolly told her mom about a lump that she felt in her abdomen. She was immediately taken to the doctor’s to have it tested. It was confirmed that there was a mass in her abdomen, and although her doctors were confident that it was benign, it would have to be removed.
The teen convinced the surgeon to hold off on the surgery until after her team competed in the state championship, which was only a few days away.
Two days after her team won the state championship for the second consecutive year, she was in the operating room.
The operation lasted five hours and turned out to be much more extensive than originally thought. The mass was the size of a cantaloupe and had attached itself to the sixteen year old’s intestines. Experts at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital were called in to test the mass. When the results came in, everyone was shocked. The results came back as mesenchymal chondrosarcoma, a cancer so rare that St. Jude’s experts had only seen five tumors like it in fifty years.
“When I was first told, I wasn't as scared because the tumor was already removed, but there will always be the fear of how treatment would affect my life,” Connolly explained. “I didn't know how much of a life I would have outside of St. Jude. I wondered if I would be able to stay in shape for volleyball, because I knew I wanted to go back. I didn't know how often I would be able to go to school, if at all, or how often I would be able to attend volleyball practice. I guess my first thought was initially, ‘how will my life change?’"
The operation was successful, but Connolly would have to undergo chemotherapy and radiation for five months as a part of her preventative treatment.
During the long months of treatment, her support system was tremendous. Home cooked meals were dropped off at her family’s home, she received encouraging notes from elementary school kids that she never met, friends visited her frequently and former Czech Republic Junior National team member and current Memphis Metro coach, Jitka Okolicany, sent her a disinfected ball to practice with while she was in the hospital. Her school and community raised over $2,000 toward medical expenses and a natural wig, to help Connolly cope with the hair loss caused by chemo.
“I cannot thank all of those enough who supported me and helped me through my journey,” she expressed. “To my family for the constant care and love though I was probably very hard to work with at times, and for the help with the many emotional break downs. To all of the coaches that saw me struggle and help, but also those coaches that pushed me to get better and be better. And to my teammates for helping me with my struggles in practices and games and for being patient with me.”
Before she was diagnosed, Connolly’s life was spent mostly at the gym. She fondly calls it her “second home.” So, when she was diagnosed, volleyball was the one thing that kept her motivated.
“I had very few chances to visit Metro but when I got time to visit my team's practices and the gym, it would be the best 2 hours of my day,” Connolly said. “I realized that I truly and deeply loved volleyball and all that it has brought into my life.”
That love for volleyball has helped her in her healing process during her ordeal and continues to motivate her to be better.
“Volleyball had taught me many things,” she said. “It has given me determination that I used to work hard every day at practices when I got back. It has given me discipline that I used through my practices and work outs. It has provided a love that encouraged me to continue on. Because of the family and friends provided by the volleyball community, as well as the many other people who supported me, I was able to grow as a person and a player and move on with my life.”
And moving on is exactly what she is doing.
Connolly will be attending the 2015 AAU Girls’ Junior National Volleyball Championship with her Memphis Metro team.
“I love going to Nationals every year!” she exclaimed. “There is so much great talent and there are so many people that all share the same love of volleyball.”
The Memphis, Tennessee resident said she hopes to play volleyball in college, while majoring in education. She also hopes to “coach and share her love for volleyball with others.”
She has learned a valuable lesson through all of this.
“There are going to be very hard bumps in the road that you will not be able to go over on your own,” she stated. “With the help of others you will be able to get through many, many tough and hard situations. These hard situations are also going to come at the absolute worse times, yet they can bring some of the best lessons and moments of your life.”
We are so glad that Constance will be able to join us at the 42nd AAU Girls’ Junior National Volleyball Championships! Good luck to her and the Memphis Metro team!
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CANCELED-Kentucky Track & Field AAU District Quali