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April 16, 2012 - Image 13

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

April 16, 2012

The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom April 16, 2012

SENIORS
From Page 4B

the professional teams out there
and that every game could impact
his future, he was trying mightily
to put aside his career ambitions.

reality. He wanted to enjoy what little
"I only have 12 guaranteed time he had left at Michigan.
games left in the season, and I "I'm not putting too much pres-
want to go out on a team that I sure on myself for that. I'm just
can be proud of." kind of focusing on what's in front
Her voice quivered and her face of me now and let that take care of
was emotional, eyes glassy. what will happen in the future."
"I don't like the idea of going For Stuart, the end inched
out playing not as well as I've closer, day by day.
played in the past. Right now, I'm ***
just not happy with the amount of November22 - Alex walked
responsibility that I am not car- out onto the court at Cliff Keen
rying." Arena and took a seat in the first
Her voice trailed off, and she row of bleachers nearest to the
sounded frustrated and disap- locker rooms. She had traded her
pointed. For the first time all volleyball apparel for a formal
season, Alex examined the con- outfit that afternoon.
clusion of her career. Minutes later, she would be on
"I'm feeling it a lot right now camera, recording a video seg-
- honestly, more than I ever have ment to be played during senior
- because I'm not playing as well night. She would be asked to
as I would like to be playing. It's reflect on her senior year and her
really frustrating. I don't know if I entire Michigan career. And even
need my confidence back or what though she had been practicing
exactly I'm missing right now, but for this story almost every week
I'm trying to figure it out." for the past three months, she
Alex had recently started filling didn't know what to say or even if
out job applications. She wanted she would tear up. All she knew
to wait until the season was over, was that this was just another
until the second semester, but she warning that her career was com-
didn't want to fall behind. Forced ing to an end.
to think about her future, she "We had our last weightlifting
wondered what her new passion session yesterday - which I am
would be or how she would chan- beyond excited about because I
nel her competitive spirit. can tell you that I will never be in
"Do I take up arts and crafts?Do another Michigan weight room
I take up tennis?" again."
She's joking, of course. But Her eyes lit up and a smile
behind the jesting, there's a formed.
grain of truth. What will life be "It's kind of odd to go through
like after volleyball? It's all she's these last checks. Today was
known for the past 13 years. the last regular-season practice
"I was thinking about it over that I'll have in Cliff Keen. After
the summer when I really wasn't tomorrow night's game, it's going
playing all the time and my body to be weird never going to play
was rested and was feeling great," another game in Cliff Keen ever."
Alex said. "And then I tweaked Since besting Northwestern
my ankle while I was walking. I on Oct. 15, the Wolverines were
was like, 'My body is pretty much 4-6, hardly a respectable record,
falling apart, and going pro and even in the rugged Big Ten. Even
getting hurt overseas would be worse, right as she had begun
awful,' so that's when I decided playing her best ball of the season,
that it wouldn't be the best choice. Alex suffered an ankle injury in
"It would just kind of delay the pregame warmups before Michi-
whole entire 'going into reality' gan faced Minnesota 10 days
thing." earlier.
*** The injury forced her to miss
January 11 - It was about 9:30 almost all of that game and
at night when Stuart walked out rendered her ineffective the fol-
of the Junge Family Champions ]owing weekend against North-
Center after doing his usual western and then-No. 7 Illinois.
postgame interviews. It had Unable to get any sort of vertical
been more than a half-hour since leap, she stayed away from the
he helped lead Michigan to an net in both games, playing only in
overtime victory against North- the back row. At that moment, all
western, and he was mentally and she wanted was a shot at redemp-
physically drained. tion, as if it was her fault that she
Roughly two months into the suffered an injury during the last
season, the demands of the season game of the regular season of
were more obvious than ever. her junior year, right before the
"You need to be mentally NCAA Tournament. She couldn't
tough. That's the key, because we escape the memory: watching
are spent physically. A lot of this helplessly from the sidelines, as
is a blur." an overmatched Michigan squad,
Over the past two weeks, Stu- without its best hitter, dropped
art's play had improved and he three straight sets in the first
felt encouraged. Despite going round of the NCAA Tournament
0-for-6 from beyond the arc that against Washington.
night, he felt that his shooting had It had been two long years
improved of late, but that wasn't since she had played in the NCAA
his focus. His defense, passing, Tournament, since she helped
and his ability to create off the spearhead a trip to the Elite Eight
dribble - it had all developed, and - the only trip to the Regional
it's something he had begun to Finals in program history - and
pride himself on. she longed for another opportu-
"You kind of hear the clich, nity. Despite its inconsistent play,
'Senior, and he's all for the team Michigan was still ranked, and at
and he's giving it his all and he's 19-11, the Wolverines were almost
" pouring his heart out for the assured an at-large bid. And yet,
team,' and that's not always the during the last week of the regu-
case. But I'm really trying to buy lar season, Alex was haunted by
into that cliche" one recurring thought.
He took a deep breath. "I keep thinking, 'What if on
"I'll be honest, it hasn't been Sunday, for some obscure reason,
that way completely for the first we don't make the tournament?"'

three years. I've probably focused ***
on some other things too much, February 18 - Stuart was
but now I'm really just taking elated.
pride in playing for my teammates Even though it was near
and playing for Michigan. midnight, a crowd of at least 50
"I think early on, I would look fans had gathered at the mouth
too much into going 0-for-6 from of the media entrance tunnel,
three ... but if I start pouting now, waiting for Michigan players to
I'm not going to have any more walk back across the court. And
opportunities to contribute to as Stuart walked out of the tun-
the team and then people will nel, they erupted in cheers and
not be able to remember me for applause. Little kids shouted his
anything. So you don't want to do name, and students and teenag-
that." ers asked to take pictures with
Standing inside Blavin Tun- him. He wanted to make a fan's
nel, the players' entrance, Stuart night and take photos, but he
noticed the difference from the hesitated, afraid to interrupt our
beginning of the year. He had interview. He looked over at me
freed himself from the soaring for approval.
expectations that he had for him- The ecstatic fans got their
self as a leader and as a player. wish. He was a rock star.
"At the beginning of the year, At the end of one of the crazi-
that's exactly what it was - the est and most action-packed days
pressure (to) have a big senior of his career, he should have been
year scoring points and hitting exhausted. But all he could feel at
shots. I told myself that I wasn't that moment was pure joy. Earlier
thinking about that the first eight that morning, Stuart sat on the
games or so, but I really was. It set of ESPN's College GameDay,
was in the back of my head, and answering questions about his
unconsciously, it was hurting my teammate Zack Novak on national
game. But I really forgot about television in a game of "Know
that when Big Ten play started." Your Teammate." More than 12
And even though he knew that hours later, Stuart walked back
every game was an audition for across the court to his locker

E

with putting those negative emo-
tions away and just letting itgo."
At the end of Alex's Michigan
volleyball career, she was ranked
second all-time in the program's
history in kills (1,618), ranked
fourth all-time in aces (152), and
holds the record for most single-
game aces (9). She was a part of
three teams that reached the
Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tourna-
ment. And as one of only four
players in the program's history
to be selected as an All-American,
her name will forever hang on a
banner in the rafters of Cliff Keen
rein KiR KLAND/Dai Arena. But at that moment, Alex
Senior Alex Hunt will have her name in the rafters at Cliff Keen Arena. just wanted to have some time
away from volleyball. She knows
room, having helped the Wolver- Ten Championship and earning a it will be tough to give up volley-
ines beat rival Ohio State in the four-seed. He was just determined ball completely, so she helps out
most-hyped game of the season. to perform better in the NCAA at a volleyball clinic a few times
As the year progressed, a men- Tournament than he performed in a week to ease the separation
tal checklist was building in his the Big Ten Tournament. He knew anxiety.
mind, things he wanted to accom- the team needed him to play well. "I think it's a good thing and
plish before his Michigan career Against Minnesota and Ohio it's helping me with those emo-
ended. Beating Ohio State loomed State, he had been anxious. He tions. It still allows me to be
large on that list. played outside of himself and he involved with the game some-
"When (Jared) Sullinger pressed too much. He tried to what, but not too involved. It's
caught that ball in the corner with do everything, he tried to do too something that I would like to
three seconds left - and I knew much - something he thought he be able to do for a longtime in
we were going to win, make or was too experienced for after four terms of giving back to the sport
miss - I got so relieved that I just years. because it's given me so much."
stopped. I didn't even box out. "That's what the pressure of Michigan volleyball coach
That game, that atmosphere, senior year will do to you some- Mark Rosen said that after the
had brought the fun back to bas- times." season ended, quite a few agents
ketball. Stuart was back to playing Three days before he would contacted him with an interest
for the love of the game. put on the Michigan uniform for in representing Alex. But with a
"I want the end tocome. I want the last time, Stuart said nothing job at Pepsi locked down for the
the NCAA Tournament to come. about his career ending. No remi- following year, Alex was ready to
"We're always taking it one niscing, no nostalgia, no talk of start a new era of her life - one
game at a time, butI want to see memories made at Michigan. He that won't revolve around vol-
how this stuff pans out. It sucks emphasized that there was no dif- leyball.
that it's coming to an end, but at ference between this year and last "Its one of those things that
the same time I can't wait for it to year. No extra pressure, he insist- I've just readied myself for, and it
end just to see how it ends." ed, to perform as a senior. didn't come as a complete shock.
*** There was no doubt in his mind I was still sad, butI was ready for
December5 - Two days earlier, that he had multiple games left in (my career) to end so it didn't hit
the Wolverines upset No. 6 Stan- his career. me too hard."
ford in the second round of the "I'm more focused than wor- She paused, recognizing the
NCAA Tournament, and Alex's ried." magnitude of her thoughts. Her
feelings about the season turned IT'S OVER voice remained steady, and her
180 degrees. Alex was smiling. January 12 - Alex sat slouched eyes softened their gaze.
Laughing. Having fun. on a couch in Espresso Royale on "It's something that I'll be
Her frustration and disappoint- State Street. grateful for, but it took its course
ment vanished. No sulking, no It had been one month since and itlasted four years. I'm happy
exasperation, no resentment. she had last slipped into a Michi- with the way it went, and it's over
"I feel like this season, with all gan uniform. One month since now."
the injuries and personal strug- she had valiantly tried to lead the ***
gles that I've had to overcome Wolverines to a comeback victory March 28 - Clang.
- right now, I finally feel like I'm against Florida. The basketball ricocheted off
back to where I was before all the But her effort wasn't enough. the rim. Stuart shot hoops on a
injuries. I have my confidence She floundered through the first cloudy and windy afternoon at
back - I feel like I used to. I just two sets - hitting just three Allmendinger Park, where he
want to keep it there because I kills - and the Wolverines lost had agreed to meet for a photo
just remember being so upset both of them. In the third set, she shoot. This is the court he came
about how I was playing and how tallied 10 kills, but they weren't to play at with fellow senior Corey
everything was just a mess." enough. The Gators won again Person during the past summer
As the team prepared for the and advanced to the Elite Eight. when Crisler Arena was under
Sweet 16, Alex was confident but Mary Wise, the Florida volleyball construction.
scared. The cruelty of postseason coach, would later remark in her He's spent the last four years
play is that any game could have postgame interview that Alex shooting inside the comforts of a
been the last of her season and her might have had SO kills had the multimillion dollar arena with a
career. It's unnerving. match gone on any longer. nice hardwood floor and sturdy
"Against Stanford, I was think- As she shook hands with her baskets, yet an outdoor court felt
ing, 'Wow, this could be it.' After opponents and walked off a vol- natural to him. The paved court,
we lost that first set, I was like, leyball court for the final time the outdoor elements, the old,
'Holy crap, we could get swept ever, the emotions set in - anger, rusty hoop - it reminded him of
and all I have is two sets."' sadness, happiness. being a kid, a simpler time when
But she was done worrying Alex also felt a sense of relief to basketballwas just a sport that he
about disappointment and tar- no longer have to depend on her loved.
nished legacies. achy body - she had battled back A group of teenagers were play-
Despite the postseason excite- spasms, sprained ankles and a ing 3-on-3 at the other end of the
ment and joy, she had accepted sprained left shoulder throughout court. Though they recognized
that her time was up and that it the season. Ultimately, injuries him when he first appeared, it
was time for her career, and a were the reason she abandoned took a few minutes for one of the
storied four years at Michigan, the thought of playing profession- teenagers to muster up the cour-
to end. ally. age to walk over and say some-
When asked if she will miss "I gave the season everything I thing,
playing with her teammates, had mentally, physically and emo- "Hey, can we get him on our
especially close friend redshirt tionally - there isn't anything team?" he jokingly asked.
junior Claire McElheny, Alex left that I can give. I gave it the No one knew how to respond.
responded: best effort I could, but I'm glad our heads turned towards Stuart,
"Yeah, Iwill, but I'm really glad it's over." who was just as caught off guard.
that I'm on my side of it and not Once again the past stood to "Yeah, sure."
her side of it." recede. Alex couldn't remember Smiling, he added:

"You don't want another sea- much from her high-school play- "But as long as you guys don't
son?" Iasked. ing days and wondered if her col- make fun of me. I haven't played
"Nope, not really." lege memories would fade too. in over a week."
*** Sitting in Espresso Royale, she The boys laughed. This was
March 13 - Three days before wanted to remember her passion Stuart, at ease without the pres-
the Wolverines matched up for volleyball. Looking back at sure of the fans, the media, the
against Ohio in their first game of the season as whole, she wished University.
the NCAA Tournament, chatter it had been more successful. She After the shoot, Stuart sat
and excitement filled the locker was frustrated and disappointed down on a bench beside the court
room, but Stuart was as emotion- that her senior season, the year and recalled his last game.
ally stoic as ever. that was supposed to be her best, "I gave it my all in every single
"As a senior, there's a little was hindered by injuries. The game that I played, but there was
more urgency from my stand- "what ifs" run rampant through just something different in (that
point and Zack's standpoint. But I her head. game), especially towards the end
don't think there is more pressure "Right now I'm struggling when it was gettingclose and all
because people are still picking us - I'm remembering all the bad these emotions were starting to
to lose against Ohio." things. I just don't think that I'm set in. There was just something
Stuart was not hanging on the exactly happy with how the sea- different, it's hard to really put it
accomplishment of winning a Big son went, and I'm just struggling into words."
And as the buzzer sounded at
9:27 p.m., and Stuart walked off
the court for the last time as a
Wolverine, the reality, the loss,
finally hit him.
"I was just telling myself, 'It
wasn't supposed to happen like
this, it wasn't supposed to end like
this.' It's not howI pictured it in
my mind. I thought that the third
' time was going to be a charm for
us, in terms of being in the NCAA
i ,Tournament, but sometimes life
just hands you lessons like that.
"(In previous years,) you could
c. go back into the locker room and
ERIN KIRKLAND/Daily tell yourself that you could use
Senior Stuart Douglass played the most consecutive games in program history. this as motivation for the next

season, butI couldn't do it then."
Then came acceptance - and
a self-awareness that even made
him smile.
"It was really disappointing
and there was sadness for a few
hours, but then I remember start-
ing to laugh a little bit because I
didn't know how to handle it. It's
almost like losing someone close
to you, something that you've
been so familiar with.
"There was definitely a sense
of relief, there's no ignoring that.
It's weird to feel that way. Just
to have all that pressure off and
not having to worry about the
scrutiny from all different angles
- that's another thing that's hard
to put into words. The pressure
is off in terms of dealing with the
strains of a season. It was kind of
nice."
Though Stuart was unsatis-
fied with his last few games, he's
happy with his accomplishments
at Michigan. He was a part of
three NCAA Tournament teams
and helped resurrect a forgotten
program. He hit his fair share of
big shots, and in his lastyear, he
played a significant role in Michi-
gan's first Big Ten Championship
since 1986. He ranks fifth all-time
in three-pointers made with 205
and never missed a game his
entire Michigan career. Some
games he started, other games
he didn't, but he played a part in
all 136 Michigan games since he
arrived here four years ago.
"If I never playagain, (I'll be)
peacefully happy. I could have
had better stats if I played some-
where else, not in the Big Ten
- I've thought about that before,
and I think that it's natural. ButI
wanted to play in the Big Ten."
He interrupts himself, search-
ing for the right words.
"It really just came down to
proving people wrong. I feel like
ever since I got the Michigan
scholarship, people have said that
I shouldn't be in the Big Ten, so
from that standpoint I'm happy -
but I want to keep playing."
Stuart had taken the lasttwo
weeks tostep away from basket-
ball, to rest his body and reener-
gize, but it was alot harder than
he expected.
"You have all this time on your
hands that you don't know really
know what to do with. You try
to take time off, but you just get
bored. It's a weird feeling."
He's still thirsty. He wants to
know what it's like to play bas-
ketball without the pressures of
classes. And he wants to prove
- to all those people who said he
would never make it to the Big
Ten and to those who say he can't
play professionally - that he can
continue his career elsewhere.
But most of all, he wants to prove
it to himself. He wants to prove
to himself that all the sacrifices
he made were worth it. He wants
to play as long as he's capable of
competing at an elite level.
Regret, he said, is ahard thing
to deal with.
For Stuart and Alex, it's not
just a sport that they're giving up
- it's a way of life, a culture. It's
a lengthy period of their life that
they have devoted to excellence in
athletics.
For Alex, she's walking away
from Michigan - from the sport
she loves - hoping to give it all
back, one day at a time. She's head-
ed to Indianapolis, starting a job

in sales and management for Pepsi
in early June and hoping to find
a club team that she could lend
assistance to.
For Stuart, he leaves Michigan
with a sense of uncertainty and
faith - hoping to keep playing the
sport he loves overseas but not
knowing if he'll ever step on the
court for a professional basketball
organization. With a degree in
economics, he'll have other career
options. But he wants to drain
every last ounce out of basketball
before he embarks on a new path,
possibly in the financialworld.
It's tough for him to say how
long he will give himself before he
decides to pursue another profes-
sion.
In the middle of February, sit-
tingat atable inthe Caribou Coffee
on Stadium and Packard, I asked
Nancy and Matt Douglass how
tough they thought it would be
for Stuart when he finally stopped
playing basketball competitively.
Though the response was focused
on Stuart, Nancy could have been
talking about any number of ath-
letes graduating from Michigan.
"I can't imagine what it will be
like. It's one of those things that
until you walk a mile in those
shoes, I can't answer what that'll
be like. And I never will, because
I've never done it."

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