Bettencourt battles back from injury
August 22, 2009
SEATTLE – She faced the pain every day. By the conclusion of last volleyball season, Jessica Bettencourt had to face reality:
The shoulder that had been bothering her since the early part of preseason workouts wasn’t getting any better.
Actually, it was getting worse.
“I knew something was wrong with it,” said Bettencourt, a 2006 graduate of South Tahoe High School and now a senior middle blocker at Seattle Pacific University. “The season ended in November, I went home for Thanksgiving, came back and made a doctor’s appointment. I let it rest over all of Thanksgiving and Christmas break, came back, but I was still in pain.”
Ultimately, an MRI showed why. Bettencourt had a torn labrum in her right shoulder.
Her only choices: Have surgery, or don’t play.
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“I opted for surgery. … I love volleyball way too much to ever give up on it,” Bettencourt said.
The 90-minute arthroscopic operation this past February did the job.
Since then, Bettencourt has been doing her job to get ready for her senior season. Practice started Aug. 10 and the team’sfirst exhibition match was Friday against Northwest Christian. Seattle Pacific officially opens its season Aug. 27 at Cal State Dominguez Hills on the first day of the Southern California Classic.
“Now that I’ve had this surgery, I’ve given it 150 percent,” Bettencourt said. “Everything I have has gone into working out. Usually every summer, I’m playing volleyball every single day. Now, I’m lifting weights and I’m in the gym a lot more than actually playing.
“It will be interesting to see whether my touches are affected,” she added. “(But) I really like being in the gym. I’m noticing that I’m getting stronger.”
The 5-foot-11 Bettencourt certainly was strong out of the gate last season. She played in 13 of SPU’s first 16 matches, and at .230, she had the top hitting percentage among the Falcons’ regulars.
But Bettencourt’s production dropped, and she saw action in just one more match – indeed, just one more game – the rest of the year. When the severity of her injury became more clear to everyone after the season ended, Falcons’ head coach Chris Johnson said it was a relief of sorts that he now had a very viable explanation for that production drop-off.
“In hindsight, it’s nicer to know that it was an injury and was out of her control,” Johnson said.
More than just sore
Ironically, Bettencourt knew something might have happened the instant she did it – way back last August.
“One day in practice, I was swinging, and I somehow swung in a odd direction, or too hard – or something,” she said. “It got worse and worse. It was really sore.”
But Bettencourt thought that’s all it was – sore. She tried a patch. She tried Ibuprofen. Neither one helped.
“My coach (Johnson) and trainer knew my shoulder was hurting me. But none of us knew how bad it was,” Bettencourt said. “I never in my mind thought it was a tear. During the season, you don’t have time to rest, and you always think it’s a sore muscle. Even though I’ve been an athlete my whole life, I’d never torn anything.”
Ultimately, it took the surgery on Feb. 19 to fix it. For the next month, Bettencourt healed, though even during that stretch, she was far from inactive.
“Literally a day or two after surgery, I was doing abs and getting on the bike,” she said. “I’d walk on the treadmill. I’d lift with my left arm. I still did everything the team did, but I had to change things up. When they did pushups, I did squats.”
By spring break in the middle of March, Bettencourt was back at it. While she acknowledges her shoulder isn’t 100 percent yet – “I don’t know how soon that may be, but I’m at least in the 90s” – she’s doing everything she can to work her way back into the game and, she hopes, back into the starting lineup.
“When I’m lifting, there’s no pain. When I take a few swings, I definitely still feel it,” she said.
Bettencourt leaves no doubt that the operation and the sometimes-challenging road to recovery have been worth it. She and the Falcons are expecting to make a significant move upward this season after last fall’s 8-18 campaign.
And she wants to be a big part of it.
“The girls that we have on this team are extremely self-motivated,” she said. “We have amazing talent on this team, and we have the drive. I think we’ll pick it up where we left off (the Falcons won four of their final five matches in ’08). We were right at the cusp of so many wins.”
From his point of view, Johnson is just as eager to have Bettencourt back in the picture.
“She’s the most complete player of our middle blockers as far as playing defense, passing and playing different positions comfortably because she has played so much on the beach,” Johnson said. “When she’s playing well, she really brings a positive energy to the court. She’s very excitable, and she’s someone people can rally around when she’s playing well.”
Bettencourt is counting on it.
“I really think it’s going to come down to experience and being mindful and persevering, and knowing and thinking that you’re not going to lose,” she said.
NOTE: Bettencourt had two blocks as Seattle Pacific swept Northwest Christian, 25-17, 25-13, 25-9, in an exhibition match.
– Moschetti is the assistant sports information director at Seattle Pacific