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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 27, Digital 5

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Page 83 of 87

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 27, ISSUE 5 84 A year ago, Dave Shondell had a moment of recruiting remorse. The veteran coach had taken a chance on transfer Sherridan Atkinson, a former highly re- garded prep prospect who hadn't connected at Long Beach State, as she struggled to come back from a near-devastating ankle injury. In that first spring at Purdue in 2016, Atkinson, a 6-foot-5 right-side hitter, looked only mildly like the player who had been ranked among the nation's top- 75 players as a high school senior. And Shondell had doubts about whether Atkinson could come back. "She was kind of hobbling and was not in volleyball condition," Shondell said. "It was really humorous what she couldn't do in that point in time. I thought at one point last spring, 'Was this the right thing to bring her in?' You could see the great and the not- so-great." Patience, however, paid off, as the former is win- ning out now. Atkinson rehabbed from the injury, then started to find her rhythm as a tall, athletic, powerful outside hitter in the second half of last sea- son. "When I first got here, I could see myself not doing what I was used to doing, and I knew they could see it, too," said the junior in mid-April, as the Boiler- makers were finishing their spring schedule. "That kind of freaked me out a bit too, but finally in Octo- ber things started to work out for me. It started to be OK. I guess in that aspect (Purdue) took a risk. "… It is a blessing really. Not many people come back from injury and get elevated to a Big Ten school, to a Purdue-level school. I am speechless about what it has done for me. Looking back, I almost want to be grateful for that injury because now I am here." But it was gruesome back then. During a summer camp at Long Beach two years ago — she remembers the exact date, July 18, 2015 — Atkinson was helping demonstrate hitting technique for high school play- ers. And on the fifth attempt, she landed awkwardly, to say the least, when her ankle dislodged. She still keeps a photo of the injury on her cell- phone, a picture she took herself and Snapchatted to friends while she lay on the court. It was ugly, as the joint between the leg and foot turned to form a crooked L. Some thought perhaps she'd placed her right shoe, backwards, on her left foot. "It would make you throw up," she said of the pic- ture. "It looks like a foot is Photoshopped on there, but it isn't fake. I am not good with pain, so I tried to laugh about it, but then the adrenaline wore off and it hit me." Although Atkinson didn't need surgery, she had months of rehabilitation after the ankle was reset, and she wasn't ready by the following fall. Then, she played in only three matches for Long Beach, before deciding in November that she wanted to seek a transfer. So she emailed every school ranked in the top-25 to see what kind of response she'd receive. Shondell, who knew of Atkinson but hadn't recruit- ed her out of Millikan High School in Long Beach, was the first to reply, doing so, she joked, before she had even hit "send." Kansas, Cal Berkley, UCLA and others also expressed interest. But Atkinson knew nothing of Purdue; in fact, she'd not even heard of the school. "It could be a West Coast thing, but it is probably just a me thing," Atkinson said of being unaware of Purdue. "I told people that played basketball that I knew and they knew it was a good basketball school and Big Ten school. After coming back from my visit, I looked up more about them and found out that peo- ple like Neil Armstrong came here and that had me more on board." But Atkinson arrived at Purdue "physically and emotionally out of sorts," per Shondell. She had not only the injury to deal with, but she had to adjust to new structure and new demands at Purdue. At Long Beach, Atkinson says, she had be- come complacent, because she'd wasn't fitting in, wasn't playing and wasn't "vibing" with 49ers' long- time coach Brian Gimmillaro. "Coming out here, nobody knew me so it was a good chance to break out of complacency," Atkinson said. "And it was a good opportunity for people to not know the old me. People like the new me and I like me." But it was a shock, because Shondell has high ex- pectations for his players.

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