Never give up

Three years ago, Kortney Thalls was told by doctors that she would be relegated to a life of misery and confusion.

Playing volleyball again wasn’t a viable option.

But the serious concussion that sidelined Thalls for her freshman year at Columbus East, a meniscus tear that kept her from playing her sophomore year and a second concussion that gave her a scare haven’t kept Thalls from returning to the sport she loves.

Now a senior, Thalls is in her second year as a starting middle hitter for the Olympians, who are 15-4 going into tonight’s game against Columbus North. This summer, she committed to play collegiately at Indiana Wesleyan.

“That was a huge step in my recovery and a dream I’ve always wanted to pursue,” Thalls said. “It was exciting.”

Although she was a surefire Division I prospect before the original concussion, Thalls is now content going to a smaller school.

“There was some interest, but I didn’t want to go D-I anymore at that point,” Thalls said. “The injury kind of changed my whole path. I wouldn’t change it at this point because it’s kind of grown me into the person I am today. I chose Indiana Wesleyan because I wanted to continue to grow in my faith, and I felt like that was the perfect fit for me.”

At Indiana Wesleyan, she plans to major in neuropsychology, a subject she learned about in her seven trips to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Michael Collins. After trips to see doctors closer to home resulted in heavy medication and little progress, Thalls’ parents, Gary and Shannon, sought out Collins.

“Ever since I met Dr. Collins out in Pittsburgh, I’ve been able to heal quickly,” Kortney Thalls said.

This year, Thalls is doing her senior project on concussion awareness and wanted to bring Collins to Columbus to talk to the community about the subject. Although Collins will likely not be able to make it because of his schedule, he may be able to send one of his colleagues.

Stacie Pagnard, who is in her first year coaching the Olympians after nine years at Westfield, worked a camp at East two years ago. She liked what she saw out of the 6-foot-1 Thalls.

“Kortney really left an impression on my mind because, physically, she’s pretty intimidating,” Pagnard said. “She has the perfect volleyball build.

“She’s not a real big vocal leader, but she’s a leader on and off the court because she does things the right way,” Pagnard added. “She cares about her teammates.”

Thalls led the Olympians with 45 blocks, including 30 solos. She also had 85 kills, 28 digs and 15 aces in 48 sets played.

“I think she’s been very motivated, and I think committing to a college and knowing volleyball is in her future, she’s been able to have a good perspective of what the game of volleyball means to her,” Pagnard said. “There was a time when she didn’t think she’d ever get to play again, so I think having the potential to lose volleyball forever and then to have to work through that, I think it’s made her more driven.”

Following tonight’s game with North, East will try to defend its Hoosier Hills Conference Tournament title Saturday at Madison. Later this month, the Olympians will try to win their fourth consecutive sectional title and their third regional in the past four years.

“I think right now, we’re becoming more of a team and working well together,” Thalls said. “So I think we could go pretty far if we continue that.”

If you go

What: Columbus East vs. Columbus North volleyball

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Columbus East High School

Author photo
Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.