Coming out of high school as a Player of the Year with several All-State and All-American honors, and then going on to finish as a team leader in several statistical categories in their first collegiate season on a nationally-ranked team may not seem very surprising for most student-athletes. But for Morgan Chacon, her path took an unexpected turn at the Indiana High School Athletic Association Class 4A State Championship on November 4, 2017.
A senior leader for Crown Point, Chacon had brought the Bulldogs back to the state title match for the second consecutive year and the team was determined to earn the school’s first state championship. She was committed to Florida State and had already decided to graduate early and enroll in school for the Spring 2018 semester in Tallahassee. With six kills at 13-12 in the first set, Chacon was already having an impressive match when she came down on a teammate’s foot and broke the tibia and fibula in her right leg.
“Normally when something like that happens, it is just an ankle roll,” said Chacon. “But when I came down, I heard a crack. So much of it was a blur, but I just went to the floor in pain and in shock. I had no idea what had really happened, but just had so much adrenaline going through me. They called an ambulance and I got taken off in a stretcher and went to the hospital.”
They first went to a hospital in Muncie, Ind., where the State Tournament was being held, but it wasn’t equipped to handle the severity of her injury. That prompted an ambulance ride of over an hour to Indianapolis.
“I have never been injured like that in my whole life,” Chacon said. “The worst had been breaking my pinky when I was younger, but nothing close to as severe as that. But I was so lucky to have such an amazing surgeon and medical staff take care of me.”
Arriving in Indianapolis in the evening, Chacon was kept comfortable for the night with surgery scheduled for the next morning. Doctors would be inserting a metal rod into her right leg and securing it with several screws to become a new tibia, while the fibula would be left to fuse on its own.
Her orthopedic surgeon was the same one who helped Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware after his gruesome injury in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
“I have never been injured like that in my whole life, The worst had been breaking my pinky when I was younger, but nothing close to as severe as that. But I was so lucky to have such an amazing surgeon and medical staff take care of me.”REDSHIRT SOPHOMORE VOLLEYBALL PLAYER MORGAN CHACON
After surgery and getting settled in her hospital room with her family, many teammates and friends visited and called, which cheered up and comforted her. But a phone call that night initially caused some significant anxiety.
”That night after my surgery, Coach Poole called me,” said Chacon, referencing Florida State volleyball head coach Chris Poole. “I was so nervous about my scholarship, because I hadn’t signed a National Letter of Intent yet and was supposed to come down to Tallahassee in a couple of months for the spring semester. He was checking on me and seeing if I was OK, and he immediately reassured me that he thought the best thing for me would be to still come down for the spring semester and be able to get the best treatment from the FSU staff.
“I started crying and was so happy, because I was so upset from what had happened and what it might have meant for my future.”
“We were on the road at Pitt and I was following the game online and found out that she was injured,” Poole said. “But it wasn’t until several hours later that I found out it was a broken leg. When we got in touch the next day, I told her that we still wanted to give the opportunity to come to Florida State and that we would be engaged with her every step of the way.
“I’ve had it happen a few times before, where an athlete gets an injury like an ACL or something like that, and you never know how quickly or how fully someone may come back. But I’ve never turned my back on anyone in that situation. I knew that I had made a commitment to them and wanted to honor that.”
“I told her that we still wanted to give the opportunity to come to Florida State and that we would be engaged with her every step of the way. I knew that I had made a commitment to her and wanted to honor that."FLORIDA STATE VOLLEYBALL HEAD COACH CHRIS POOLE
After spending two days in the hospital recovering and basically learning to walk again, Chacon returned home to Crown Point with her family, followed by another two weeks before returning to school. Fortunately, due to her prior plan of graduating early and taking several Advanced Placement classes, Chacon had already finished the majority of the requirements for high school graduation, as well as admission to Florida State.
“I started out with basically a week of bed rest, before getting up and moving around a little more with a wheelchair,” said Chacon. “I was only able to use the wheelchair for about a week and a half, until my mom wouldn’t let me use it anymore.”
Living a block away from a rehabilitation facility in Indiana, Chacon was given a daily exercise regimen and was able to gain a strong foundation before coming to Tallahassee in January of 2018 – just two months after suffering her injury.
“The first time I met Morgan was on her recruiting visit in November,” said Julia Giampaolo French, athletic trainer for FSU Volleyball. “So when she came to campus in January, the main goal was to get her walking normally and get the limp out of her gait.”
“I needed friends to carry my backpack at first when I came to school because I had such a bad limp and I was trying to get rid of it,” Chacon said. “But I began to appreciate all of the moments of progress and little goals of walking properly and things like that, as I wasn’t cleared to run until May.”
“I had never worked with someone with an injury like that before,” said Giampaolo French. “Once she was cleared to run, we started jump and run training in both the pool and our AlterG treadmill, which allows us to take percentages of the weight off of the athlete. We started at 30 percent body weight and would increase it every week as long as she was pain free, and Morgan always wanted to bump that percentage up as quickly as she could.”
The goal was still for Morgan to be able to compete for the Seminoles in the fall of 2018. But as the summer turned into fall preseason training, it became evident that while she was cleared for all of the individual aspects of volleyball – from running to jumping to diving on the court – she wasn’t ready for the demands of a full match.
“Playing in some early matches, we knew that the confidence wasn’t there and that there was a hesitation that was keeping her from being who she wanted to be, and who we needed her to be,” Poole said. “I’m not sure who first brought up the idea of taking a medical redshirt for 2018, but when it became a possibility and we talked about it together, she took it.”
“I knew I wasn’t at the level of all of the other girls on the team, and even though there was hope for me to be ready, my body just wasn’t ready,” said Chacon. “I knew I could come back and be fully healthy and contribute, but I just needed more time.”
Taking the medical redshirt allowed Chacon to focus on regaining strength and endurance instead of worrying about playing throughout the fall. The rehab and recovery continued as Chacon improved over the next several months and into the 2019 summer and preseason training, which included two-week trip to Europe with the team.
It became evident throughout 2019 preseason training that Chacon was one of the best passers and defenders and she earned a starting role, taking on No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 3 Minnesota in her first two matches as a collegiate player. The Seminoles earned their highest-ranked win in program history with a sweep of the Golden Gophers on August 31, as Chacon finished with nine kills, 11 digs, two blocks and a service ace.
Chacon continued to play well throughout the 2019 season and finished with a team-high 320 digs and ranked second on the squad with 254 kills and 21 service aces. She also added 32 total blocks and 15 assists on the year. Chacon tallied nine double-doubles (10-plus kills and 10-plus digs) on the season, including four 15/15 matches, as well as a 21-kill, 20-dig performance along with three blocks on the road at High Point on November 2.
“Morgan had several outstanding matches this season but was still trying to get back to being 100 percent for two matches on a weekend,” said Poole. “And I know that frustrated her, as she wouldn’t always recover as well as the other players, but continued to give everything of whatever she had despite not always having a full tank.
“So that was a key here in January of 2020, as we sat down with Tosh (Natosha Gottlieb, strength and conditioning coach) and Brooke (Niles) from beach and said that we need to get her stronger. And everyone was all-in on the plan, which was going well until the spring got canceled.”
Chacon got off to a strong start with beach volleyball, earning a win on court 5 against No. 17 South Carolina in her first match, but she was only able to compete in three matches for the Noles before the COVID-19 pandemic ended all collegiate sports for the spring.
Experienced with taking a few detours on the path of training and development, Chacon has needed to get creative in her physical training during this time, but is focused on being the best she can be when indoor volleyball is able to get back in action this fall.
“I always knew that I was going to play again and be a great athlete, but I knew I wasn’t the athlete I used to be when I first came back,” added Chacon. “It can be discouraging, and it took me a long time to accept that I don’t have to be the athlete I was. I might be a different athlete than I was before, but I can still be great.”