PORTSMOUTH — In the simplest of terms, you’d be hard-pressed to find an athlete tougher than Notre Dame’s Sophia Hassel.
Hassel, who hasn’t suffered just one ACL injury in her high school career, but two in the past two seasons, has been forced to watch from the sidelines for a good portion of her high school athletic career.
Thanks to two separate ACL tears, she’s missed the entirety of her sophomore volleyball campaign as well as the past two basketball seasons. But this coming fall, as her senior year begins, Hassel is more determined than ever to get back on the court and stay there for good.
After all, this isn’t her first rodeo.
“I’ve been through the whole coming back from injury thing before, so I am confident that I will be strong and ready to go, full-pace for volleyball,” Hassel said. “I am taking it day-by-day, trying to get stronger and more ready. I’m super excited to get back to 100 percent and playing again, especially since it’s my last year to play the sport I love the most.”
Hassel will be returning from injury to lead a team that went 21-6 last season after a trip to a Division IV regional final. Getting back to that level, and then further, is the Titans’ top priority.
“I have pretty high expectations for our team this year. We have some of our core seniors that have a lot of experience, as well as some new elements,” Hassel said. “I’m ready to see how we flow together on the court. I have hopes of going far in the tournament.”
If that is to happen, Hassel will have to receive help from those “core seniors” she mentioned. Setter Cassie Schaefer, outside hitter Taylor Schmidt and defensive specialist Joyce Zheng certainly fit that mold while big things are also expected out of junior Claire Dettwiller.
And, of course, there’s junior Ava Hassel — Sophia’s younger sister — who will be playing for the first time since her freshman season. Ava also suffered an ACL injury that forced her to sit a season ago.
“This year is actually the first year we get to play volleyball together, so I’m especially excited for that. She is so talented at all she does, so that makes it even more fun for me anytime I get to play the sport I love and also share the court with her,” Hassel said of her younger sister. “We have a connection that goes far beyond sports, so it just comes natural for us to play together once we get out there. Our time has been limited because of our injuries, but I hope to make our last year together the best one yet.”
While the aforementioned names are certainly looking for success, they’ll have to find a way to fill the shoes of departed seniors Katie Dettwiller and Clara Hash from a year ago.
That’s no small task considering the duo’s combined 640 kills, 95 aces, 82 blocks and 348 digs.
Nevertheless, Sophia has the utmost confidence in her teammates to nail down that objective.
“The seniors that we lost last year played vital roles in the success that we had and they will be hard to replace,” Hassel said. “But I am confident that we have players coming up that will help do that. I’m excited to see some of the younger players that have spent time playing for JV and developing their game step into bigger roles, and to see what they can do at the varsity level.”
Notre Dame’s six losses last season came to volleyball powerhouses, including the likes of Unioto, Circleville, Chillicothe Southeastern, Wheelersburg and Clay (twice). Combined, those schools had an overall record of 113-20.
This year’s non-conference schedule looks to provide those same tests as it features matches at Wheelersburg, at the Circleville Invitational and at South Webster’s Jeep Invitational.
“Our non-conference games are always the ones that test us the most, which provides us with tournament-like games,” Hassel said. “Playing these types of teams ultimately gets us prepared for the intense and high competitive games that we will play down the road during our tournament run.”
The Titans will take their first steps towards that tournament run when they start their season on Aug. 24 at the Jeep Invitational.
Hassel tallied 131 kills, 29 aces, 25 blocks and 266 digs as a junior last fall. She’ll look to improve upon those numbers during her last go-around, but more importantly, she’ll look to be a leader.
“Coming into this season, I want to focus on being fully healthy and strong enough to give my team whatever it needs throughout the season,” Hassel said. “I want to improve on every part of my game and give my team someone that they can rely on in every situation.”
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