How Haley Hallgren overcame most cancers to star for UCLA seaside volleyball

She didn’t look fairly just like the participant Stein Metzger remembered. The Haley Hallgren the UCLA seaside volleyball coach thought he was getting out of the switch portal was the one whose play on the No. 3 courtroom helped USC win the 2021 nationwide championship. The one who supplied the primary level within the championship twin that stopped UCLA from successful its third consecutive NCAA title. Metzger remembered the highly effective top-spin serve, versatility and attacking energy.

But on her first day at Mapes Beach, the previous USC seaside champion and Michigan indoor participant might barely sustain through the staff’s post-practice conditioning. Behind raised eyebrows, Metzger hoped the switch would shortly enhance .

Hallgren considered that previous participant too.

She was a two-time All-Pac-12 second-team honoree who might barely muster the energy to step on the courtroom. She ranked fifteenth in USC historical past for dual-match victories however her coughing bouts had been rising so extreme that she strained her personal muscle tissue. She was a nationwide champion who had all however given up her skilled goals as a result of it simply damage too unhealthy.

So no, Haley Hallgren isn’t the participant she was once.

She is likely to be higher.

Haley Hallgren, far left, celebrates with USC teammates Audrey Nourse (24) and Olivia Bakos (21) after the Trojans’ NCAA title victory over UCLA in May 2021.

(C. Morgan Engel / NCAA Photos through Getty Images)

None of the scans might give Hallgren a purpose why her team-leading conditioning was getting worse each time she took the beep check — a operating check to evaluate cardio health — at USC or why her coughing was rising extra frequent. She began to simply accept that life as a school athlete was speculated to be this tiring, even when she as soon as felt so weak that she needed to crawl to the toilet in her condo.

“Am I just in my head?” Hallgren puzzled each time a brand new check confirmed no purpose for her growing signs.

With no rationalization for her well being struggles, Hallgren stored taking part in, amassing an 84-34 report in twin matches for USC. Hallgren helped USC to the 2021 nationwide championship, then transferred to Michigan to play indoor volleyball, however her well being by no means bought higher.

After 5 years of steadily progressing signs, two sports activities at two faculties and a nationwide championship, Hallgren lastly bought a solution to her well being questions. She wasn’t being a child. She wasn’t being dramatic. She wasn’t destined for a brand new, at all times drained regular.

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She was taking part in with a cancerous tumor on her lung.

It felt like a deep exhale that she was holding for years.

“You don’t think you’re going to hear those words at 22, 23,” Hallgren mentioned not too long ago sitting in UCLA’s Acosta Center. “But honestly, I was really relieved. … Everyone else was kind of freaking out but I was like, ‘Thank God, there’s something you can do about this.’ I don’t have to feel this way anymore.”

A yr faraway from her analysis and now onto her third school, Hallgren speaks of the ordeal with a blunt matter-of-factness. It was nonstop coughing and a collapsed lung that she had been taking part in with for 3 days that bought medical doctors to note a blockage in her lung. She nonetheless wonders if she might have been extra aggressive with medical doctors about her signs to get an earlier analysis. She bought the information that she had most cancers whereas buying within the grocery retailer for grilled cheese substances. It was raining.

Similar to how she feels in her sport, the place she needs to be on the courtroom for the ultimate factors to manage her staff’s outcome, Hallgren was relieved that it was her on this scenario as a substitute of another person. Told she wouldn’t want chemotherapy, Hallgren underwent a surgical procedure to take away the tumor, which probably began rising after her senior yr of highschool, then a lobectomy two months later.

The second process eliminated the higher half of her left lung. She was fortunate, she emphasised.

Not solely did her current one-year scan return clear outcomes, Hallgren was in a position to have the lobectomy carried out laparoscopically, a less-invasive method to the traditional technique that features a 10-inch incision right into a affected person’s again. The typical technique would have lower by way of main muscle tissue Hallgren wanted to maintain taking part in, eliminating her probability of a comeback. Before the surgical procedure, Hallgren’s physician mentioned that as a result of the tumor had crept onto her airway, there was a couple of 5% probability they might pull off the less-invasive process. Even then, there can be no assure her lung capability would return to taking part in degree.

Facing the doable finish of her athletic profession, Hallgren didn’t fret. There was a lot else occurring, she mentioned.

“I definitely remember thinking, ‘Oh, I’m glad I’m not playing beach right now,’ ” she mentioned with amusing.

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Beach volleyball was Hallgren’s love.

Although she was a four-year varsity indoor participant for Southlake Carroll High in Texas the place she performed setter, libero and out of doors hitter, the highschool seaside All-American and six-year member of the junior seaside nationwide staff hoped to make an expert profession on the sand. It’s why she selected to play seaside solely at USC, the place she graduated with an undergraduate diploma in three years and added a grasp’s.

But she missed the vitality of indoor volleyball and the staff camaraderie of taking part in with 5 different gamers on the courtroom.

Hallgren credited Michigan coaches and teammates for his or her help after she obtained her analysis and their completely lighthearted reception when she returned. When Hallgren was lastly taking part in in Big Ten matches that she missed the earlier season, her Michigan teammates would typically be struck by what she went by way of. Someone would lower by way of a silent second to abruptly joke, “Hey, remember when you had cancer?”

Fun was typically the one strategy to get by way of it, Hallgren recalled not too long ago.

Hallgren returned to follow in a restricted capability 4 months after her lobectomy and performed in 17 matches for the Wolverines final fall with seven begins. A 6-foot-1 utility participant, Hallgren recorded 42 kills, 60 digs and 18 blocks.

The indoor season was a welcome steppingstone for Hallgren, who knew she needed to step up her conditioning over winter break if she can be able to compete for the Bruins on the seaside this spring.

After he missed on recruiting her earlier than, Metzger was decided to get Hallgren this time. He didn’t thoughts that she hadn’t performed on the seaside in two years and had lower than two absolutely practical lungs.

“How can you say no to someone like Haley?” Metzger mentioned.

Hallgren was direct through the switch course of and informed Metzger she was not in seaside form. He signed her anyway, primarily as a result of he didn’t wish to must play in opposition to that participant with the devastating serve he remembered from USC.

“In my mind, it was worth taking a chance just because of the caliber player she is,” Metzger mentioned. “Her mentality I figured would be a benefit to our team just to add to our culture with the fact that she was going to have a ton of gratitude just being able to play after going through something like that.”

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With a staff that returned 9 of 10 starters to earn the preseason No. 1 rating, Metzger didn’t know precisely how Hallgren would match into the lineup. Her versatility is a useful puzzle piece at UCLA as a result of she could be an attacker in a single match and a defender in one other.

Hallgren began 5 of UCLA’s six matches final weekend because the Bruins went 6-0 of their season-opening match in Honolulu. Playing on courtroom No. 5, Hallgren and senior Rileigh Powers received every of their matches in straight units. Metzger doesn’t discover Hallgren lagging behind the staff throughout wind sprints anymore. Hallgren mentioned she wanted to relearn the right way to breathe along with her restricted lung capability after the lobectomy.

Not solely was she transitioning again to the seaside from indoor, however Hallgren was determining a brand new fashion of seaside volleyball at UCLA, the place the Bruins depend on handsets out of the center to run their offense by way of set performs. USC, the defending nationwide champion and the place Hallgren’s youthful sister nonetheless performs, relied on bodily huge assaults. To make the transition, Hallgren has grow to be one of many “most coachable” gamers UCLA has ever had, Metzger mentioned.

“Some people really hang on to their errors and the negative self-talk can just wear on them. She doesn’t seem to have any of that,” Metzger mentioned. “There seems to be this lightness and freedom that she can go out there and compete even when things aren’t going their way and that’s honestly refreshing.”

Hallgren, who a yr after her lobectomy was nonetheless experiencing some numbness in her again and random taking pictures pains by way of her sternum, was nervous to return to the seaside. She used to catch herself evaluating her present ability degree to the participant she was at USC, questioning why she wasn’t taking part in like earlier than.

But she discovered to let that participant go.

“I have two months left of playing this sport,” Hallgren mentioned. “Might as well enjoy it and go all out as hard as you can.”

For so lengthy, Hallgren felt like she was in an inside battle to simply step on the courtroom. Getting to play the ultimate indoor season at Michigan made her really feel like her fiery self once more. An even higher model shall be on show in Westwood.

“I could feel my competitive spirit coming back, but I was still trying to figure things out,” Hallgren mentioned. “I’m excited to just be ready to go out and kill people again.”