ST. JOSEPH — Anna Wentzloff isn’t going to connect perfectly on all of her swings. Same as any other volleyball player.
The St. Joseph-Ogden senior recognizes this. Yet that doesn’t mean frustration won’t set in from time to time.
So whenever Wentzloff is getting annoyed with her own play for the Spartans (31-4), who open the Class 2A postseason at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in an Oakwood Regional semifinal versus either the host Comets (21-12) or Westville (7-15), she remembers something few her age can relate to.
“Sometimes I’m kind of like, ‘I wish I would’ve hit that in instead of out,’” Wentzloff said. “But then I look back and I’m like, ‘OK, a year ago I was in the hospital. I wasn’t (playing).’”
That’s because Wentzloff was battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
She was diagnosed with the illness in August 2018. This brought about immediate support from the Spartan community, but also a required separation from volleyball, basketball, shot put and discus to treat her cancer.
Things have looked up for Wentzloff in 2019. She’s been in remission since March.
“I just think about how lucky and how fortunate I am,” Wentzloff said. “I met so many people in the hospital that would love to be where I am. So I just think about it positively.”
That’s reflected in her presence on the SJ-O volleyball sideline during a largely dominant regular season.
Though Wentzloff didn’t receive any reps during last Thursday night’s Illini Prairie Conference triumph against Monticello, she frequently could be seen rushing up and down the Spartans’ row of chairs.
Offering high-fives and shouts of encouragement all the while.
“To see what a difference a year can make, I think, has been such an important life lesson for our kids,” SJ-O coach Abby McDonald said, “more than just about this sport, but about what she all went through and how hard she fought to get herself healthy.
“But to see her be able to take the court this year and know that was a goal of hers last year, I don’t think there’s really any better feeling as a coach.”
Wentzloff didn’t get the chance to play any volleyball during her junior season. She attended as many Spartan matches and practices as she could, depending on how she felt physically.
Her SJ-O teammates responded by wearing purple shoelaces. It’s a means of bringing awareness to Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that affects part of the immune system.
The girls also helped with the costs for Wentzloff’s medical expenses via various fundraising activities at a 2018 match versus Tri-Valley.
“It’s so humbling and overwhelming,” Wentzloff said. “Tuesday night was our senior night, and I told them, ‘These past four years have been crazy, but this is my favorite thing and you guys are so awesome.’”
Wentzloff, who has suited up for the entire current volleyball season, admits she’s not back to full strength athletically.
And she still has doctor visits every three months, with another scan due for January.
None of that shows when she’s playing, though, according to McDonald.
“To have her healthy this season and to see her work ethic when she’s in practice,” McDonald said, “she works really hard and gives 100 percent. And she makes us better, whether she’s on the court or not.”
With the Spartans’ remaining match total now on a day-by-day countdown, Wentzloff isn’t letting anything stand in her way of making those last on-court experiences memorable ones as the Spartans chase their seventh regional title in the last eight seasons this week.
“I’m still working every day to get back to where I was,” she said. “This is my senior year. This is my last year, and I want to make the most of it.”