Her knee is strong again, and so is Haley Thorsen’s determination to lift St. Joseph and herself to higher heights.
The 5-foot-10 outside hitter is the main anchor for the Cardinals this season after taking second swings the past three years behind Chynna Loeffler, who’s now playing at Skagit Valley College (Wash.). St. Joseph last qualified for the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament in 2006.
“It’s my senior year, and I want to go all out,” Thorsen said. “I’m really trying and doing the best I can. I know people on our team will do anything to win. We blend pretty well together, and we work well together.
“We’re more of a team than relying on one person. Because I’m a senior and I’ve been hitting the longest of the girls, I sometimes feel I’ve got to put the ball down. That’s a lot of pressure, but I guess I’ve got to do it.”
That’s been Thorsen’s style: make the best out of every situation.
During her sophomore year, she tore her ACL in her left knee during the first game of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation basketball season.
At least she got in a full season of volleyball, a sport she started in the eighth grade and learned to appreciate, especially the benefits that go beyond winning and losing.
“I didn’t choose it. My mom (Grace Gonsalves) made me go, and I hated it so much. After six months, one day I liked it and tried out for high school,” Thorsen said. “I was not that good. Then one day, I don’t know what happened, but I could hit a little bit, and after my freshman year I kept going.
“Volleyball is about teamwork. You literally need a team. You need a pass to set and a set to hit. You’ve got to be independent but work as a team.”
Thorsen folded determination and hard work into a faster-than-expected recovery.
“Last year, I was going to physical therapy five times a week, and I had a game in two weeks and was told I wouldn’t be able to play,” she said. “Two days before the game, they made me do jumps, and I wasn’t ready.
“The next day I told them, ‘I need to play.’ I did the jumps. I played and nobody really noticed. It was the happiest moment in my life. A lot of people thought, ‘Oh, she’s not going to play.’ But I did it.”
Thorsen’s determination lifts her in other ways, too. She’s been going to St. Joseph since the eighth grade.
Thorsen has a 4.14 grade-point average, and she relishes the challenging college prep classes at the small school.
“I sometimes think I want to go to a bigger school, but I think (about) why I want to go to college, and that’s the main thing,” she said. “I’m getting good grades, and I’m proud of myself. It’s well-earned grades, and it’ll help me in the future when I go to college.”
She spent the summer touring colleges with her dad, Stuart Thorsen, who’s a banker in California. She also went to a four-day volleyball camp at UC San Diego.
Thorsen is looking at a school on the West Coast, where she would be in close range with her dad. Since her sophomore year, he’s been flying to Hilo to visit, and she’s visited him during the summer.
Despite the hardship of the long distance, Thorsen has made the best of the situation and picked up a few valuable lessons.
“I’ve learned to be independent, be on my own a little bit,” she said. “My mom taught me to be patient. My dad’s been away so long. But he’s really supportive and helps me through a lot. He wanted me to trust people and have faith in people.
“Life isn’t perfect. You’ve got to take what you’ve got. When I was younger, I would hold back in volleyball. I want to do the best that I can. I’m trying my hardest to play my best volleyball.”
Thorsen’s determination lifts her. It pushed her through her ACL injury and provided a proud moment. It will be foremost on her mind when St. Joseph (5-5) plays Hilo next Tuesday. That’s because her dad will be there.