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Ohio redshirt junior outside hitter Chelsea Bilger gives high fives to her fans before the match against Virginia during the Baymont Invitational.

Bilger overcoming season-long setback

#OhioVB Return of 2012 All-MAC selection Chelsea Bilger gives Ohio more offensive weapons

After being named to the Mid-American Conference First Team in 2012, redshirt junior outside hitter Chelsea Bilger initially looked to continue that success in the last season.

Through four matches to begin the 2013 season, Bilger had tallied 15 kills — 10 of which came in Ohio’s straight-set sweep over then-No. 8 Oregon. The Bobcats were a perfect 4-0 heading into their home matchup against then-No. 24 North Carolina, as they were looking for their second top-25 upset of the season. They would need to turn to Bilger and company yet again in order to beat the Tar Heels.

While going up for a ball in the first set against the Tar Heels, Bilger began to feel something wrong with her knee. After she completely came down from the net, she landed on her left leg and felt a pop. She had torn her ACL and both menisci, ending her season.

Days after the injury, Bilger went into surgery, beginning her road to recovery. The NCAA granted her a medical redshirt making Bilger a redshirt junior entering the season.

Currently, a year separated from the injury, the Fishers, Indiana native is still working her way back to her previous All-MAC form. Bilger recognizes that with an injury of this magnitude, it will take a significant amount of time before she feels normal again.

“Usually they say that for athletes the first year is the toughest and just trying to get back into it,” Bilger said. “Especially now, since I progressed and I started playing right when preseason started, so that was tough because I really hadn’t played in practices and stuff.”

She still wears a protective brace on her left knee as she continues the recovery process. Eleven games into the season, coach Deane Webb gave Bilger the nod off the bench as she entered against Green Bay during the third set of a 3-0 sweep for Ohio.

Immediately, setter Abby Gilleland fed the ball to Bilger for her first kill in over a year. She went on to record three more kills in that set against the Phoenix.

Since her return, she has been seeing the floor progressively as Webb has been cautious with her return.

“We’ve had her in and out of practice a little bit,” Webb said. “She was in a lot early and then had a little setback and then was out for a little bit. She’s still working her way in there, it’s just a matter of getting comfortable with game speed.”

This is the first time in her career that Bilger has seen the game from the sidelines. It has allowed her to see the game in a whole new light. Since returning to the court, Bilger has been trying to implement the certain things that she saw in that perspective.

“It really helped because it’s easy to watch and see people make mistakes and be like, why would she do that,” Bilger said. “Then I would think about it and be like, I do those things. So, it’s a good thing to watch and say don’t do this or that.”

After sitting out an entire season, Bilger has some catching up to do in terms of honing her skills and working with her teammates again. The Bobcats see the improvement that Bilger has made and continue with the process that they have set for her.

“Just getting her enough reps that the timing is good, the range is good, the contact height is where it needs to be,” Webb said. “All of those things are still a work in progress and Chelsea knows that, but it’s heading in the right direction and that’s what’s important.”

Eventually, the Bobcats will be able to use Bilger’s full skill-set, which will add another dimension to the offense that they have been missing for more than a year. 

If Bilger can combine with freshman Jaime Kosiorek, Ohio will have other reliable options on the outside to feed to behind standout senior Kelly Lamberti. This balanced attack is something that the Bobcats have been striving for this season, so teams will have to gameplan around more than just Lamberti.

Gilleland, a junior, remembers what Bilger brought to the team two seasons ago and welcomes her return to Ohio’s frontline.

“Chelsea brings back her heavy arm,” Gilleland said. “She always had the heavy-arm, high-arm swing and we’ve missed it. Once she gets full going again it’s going to be good for us.”


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