Marvin Ridge middle hitter Mereze Visagie committed to play volleyball at Baltimore’s John Hopkins University midway through September after going on an official visit and falling in love with the campus, the city and the team.
But rewind to September 2012 and Visagie’s story looks much different.
The 6-foot-2 senior first picked up volleyball at age 14, after her mom encouraged her to play a sport “for tall girls.” She was a natural and devoted herself to the game, playing varsity during the fall and club teams nearly year round.
But during the summer after her sophomore year, Visagie, who was already getting looks from Division 1 schools, started experiencing severe pain in her shoulder.
“I’m a hitter, so I thought it was just part of the job,” she explained. “But the more I played, the worse it got. I played through the pain but it wasn’t long before I couldn’t step on the court without some type of pain medication and tape.”
After competing with her club team in Columbus, Ohio, Visagie decided to get an MRI. Five days later, after attending a recruiting camp where she played nine hours a day for four days straight, Visagie’s doctor informed her that she had torn her rotator cuff and would need surgery immediately.
“I started bawling,” she said. “I thought I was done. All my plans for college and my future, I thought it was over. I didn’t think I’d ever recover to play again.”
So, Visagie began extensive physical therapy in hopes of returning to the court. She began training under Robin Bugg, a former volleyball star at the University of Tennessee and current coach of the Triangle Club team in Raleigh, as she relearned how to use her shoulder, missing her entire junior season at Marvin Ridge to recover.
“I basically had to start from scratch. I had to relearn my swing and everything,” she said. “But Robin taught me how to tweak my swing to prevent future injury. It’s funny because, if I didn’t get injured, I know my swing wouldn’t be as powerful as it is now.”
Bugg offered Visagie a spot on her club team during her recovery. Still unable to play, Visagie would leave school early to drive three hours to Raleigh three times a week for practice, all while juggling physical therapy, volleyball and several online and AP classes.
By the time the one-year anniversary of her injury neared this season, Visagie had fully recovered to become one of the Mavs’ top players, recording a team-high 282 kills and 70 blocks and a hitting percentage over .400, earning her the 2013 Union County Weekly’s Volleyball Player of the Year title.
In addition, she guided the Mavs to a 22-5 record, which included a deep run in the Class 3A playoffs before eventually falling to Jesse Carson in five sets in the quarterfinals.
“My senior season, it was a dream come true,” she said. “We came into the season not knowing what to expect. I had been out, we lost 10 seniors, but it ended up being such a great year. The loss to Carson was tough, but it was the best volleyball we had played as a team the whole year.”
Now, as Visagie continues to compete on her Carolina Union club team, she’s looking forward to the next step as a member of John Hopkins’s volleyball team.
“My decision to play at John Hopkins was based off of their pre-med program,” said Visagie, who wants to become a dermatologist or orthopedic surgeon. “I knew I wasn’t going to play professional volleyball. If I wanted to pursue my dream of being a doctor, I had to be smart about it.
“It’s crazy to think how far I’ve come and the way things work out. If you told me a year ago that I’d be committed to play at John Hopkins, after where I was with my shoulder, I wouldn’t have believed