STRASBURG – Delainey Stickley was playing in her final volleyball match of her junior season when everything changed.

Stickley tore the meniscus in her left knee during Strasburg’s regional volleyball playoff game against Wilson Memorial. Stickley, now a senior, had to miss all of her girls basketball season and her travel volleyball season. She was out for three months.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Stickley said about sitting out a sports season. “I don’t like sitting out. It was for basketball and (travel) volleyball. But luckily (Strasburg girls basketball) coach (Darin) Jenkins and (North Mountain Volleyball Club) coach Jay (Ritchie) really helped me with physical therapy. Then softball started and (Strasburg coach Suzanne Mathias-Carter) was my coach for that. So she helped me get back and be able to be almost as fast as I was before I tore my meniscus.”

Stickley said she had surgery on Dec. 19, but she was still able to make it to all of Strasburg’s girls basketball practices and games. The Rams advanced to the Class 2 state tournament in basketball and Stickley said it was tough not being able to actually play but she was proud of what they accomplished.

“All of my best friends are on that team and seeing them take over and leading the team really helped, knowing that I couldn’t,” Stickley said. “The coaches on that team really helped me get on the bus (for games) and still be a part of everything. I was never left out of anything.”

Stickley was able to return two weeks into her junior softball season. She said she had to a lot of physical therapy on her knee and she still does some every day. She still wears a protective brace on her knee for volleyball and said her knee is still weak and could tear again.

She said missing time last season helped her to appreciate playing sports even more than before.

Stickley began playing volleyball as an eighth-grader, in part because her sister used to play for Strasburg. Once Stickley started playing, she said she fell in love with the game.

“I love the intensity, you’re always moving, always talking,” she said. “I just love everything about it.”

Stickley said she started out as a hitter but in her freshman year she began to do a little setting as well. Her sophomore season, her first on varsity, Stickley said she began to do more setting than hitting. She said she loves being a setter even more than being a hitter.

When Stickley is on the back row, she is the team’s primary setter and when she moves to the front row, senior Baylee Hodson takes over as setter and Stickley focuses on hitting.

Mathias-Carter, who coaches Stickley in both volleyball and softball, said that being able to hit and set helps Stickley be even better at both.

“It definitely helps her in learning and understanding where to put the ball for a different hitter,” Mathias-Carter said. “And when they tell her an adjustment it’s a lot easier for her to understand it and make that adjustment.”

Stickley said her sophomore year was a big learning experience for her and it helped her a lot.

“(Strasburg 2018 graduate) Ashleigh Hockman helped me a lot, she was our libero,” Stickley said. “And she kind of helped me, guided me through everything along with (Strasburg 2019 graduate) Grace Davis – they were my two big mentors that year.”

Last year, Stickley was able to take the reigns of the team and helped lead a young team to a solid season.

This season, Stickley is once again leading the way for the Rams. Earlier this week in a win over Page County, Stickley helped set the tone for the Rams with a kill and three assists in the first 4 points of the match in an eventual victory.

Mathias-Carter said that the team goes as Stickley goes. She is the leader and the other players look to her for help.

“She’s a good setter and when she’s on setting and hitting-wise then we’re stronger,” Mathias-Carter said. “If she struggles, we struggle. So it kind of goes hand-in-hand with her. But she’s worked really hard to get to the point where she’s at with her sets and just taking on her job as a setter, being kind of in charge on the court. And she’s pretty much in charge of the whole thing. If she’s down, they’re down, and if she’s up, they’re up. And she’s, I think, finally as a senior realized that to a degree. She can still be a little bit better with not being frustrated at times, but overall, I think she’s handled the job well.”

Stickley said she and Hodson get along well and work together as setters on the floor.

“We help each other,” Stickley said of Hodson. “If one of us needs help, we can pick each other up on the court. So when she’s setting and I’m hitting and if she gets the first ball and she needs help, it’s easy for met to set it and still be able to help the other hitters get a kill.”

Stickley said she’s also excited about her final travel volleyball season, which starts in November and ends in May. She said that travel volleyball has helped her a lot with her game and aided her in becoming the player she is today.

Stickley has 99 assists and 33 kills for the Rams this season. The Rams are off to a 7-6 start to the season and have been a little up and down. They have lost five of their last seven matches but Stickley said she knows they can turn things around.

“I think as soon as we get back on track and get our winning streak back we’re going to go really far,” Stickley said. “We have so much talent everywhere – all three positions – that we can be unstoppable if we just put everything together.”

While Stickley has been productive and is a huge part of Strasburg’s success on the court, she said she still has concerns about her health.

Stickley said that she has been told by her doctors that the meniscus could tear again. While she wants all her teams to perform well, she said she also just wants to complete her senior season healthy.

“For volleyball, knowing that we only have four weeks left, that’s tough knowing that my favorite sport is almost over,” Stickley said. “Then it’s basketball and knowing that my knee could tear at any minute and if it’s worse this time I could be out for even longer. But hopefully, it will withstand all three seasons so I can get every minute of my senior year that I can.”

– Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com