By Cailin Kaklamanos

“She had the easiness and the athleticism of a Michael Jordan.”

That was a sentenced uttered by Florida State Volleyball head Coach Chris Poole when speaking about outside hitter Morgan Chacon during her high school days in Crown Point, Indiana. Chacon, now a redshirt junior but having already earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Physiology, has gone through a quite the journey to get where she is today.

Chacon was one of the best players in the country when she committed to play volleyball for Florida State. During her senior year of high school, she led her team to the state championship.

Coach Poole was ecstatic to have Chacon join the Florida State Volleyball Team and was following her state championship match via live stream on Nov. 4, 2017. Chacon already had seven kills in the first set when midway through, the announcers interrupted the game stating that there had been an injury on the court.

Coach Poole began reaching out to the Chacon family trying to figure out what happened. His heart sank when he discovered that Chacon was indeed the injured player. She had a compound fracture in her leg, which was the same injury suffered by former Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware, resulting in her having surgery the next morning. She was supposed to graduate from high school in December 2017 and enroll early to Florida State in January 2018. In a matter of seconds, Chacon’s life changed drastically, and her biggest fear was possibly losing her athletic scholarship because of the severity of the injury.

“I had a talk with her that night and I told her then. I said, ‘Morgan I don’t want you to worry. We love you and are 100 percent behind you, ’” Coach Poole stated. Poole knew this injury would not define Chacon and he was determined to have her on the court playing for Florida State.

The recovery was not easy. Chacon went from a wheelchair to crutches and had to learn how to walk, run, and jump again. Her love for volleyball and her dedication to Florida State never wavered, and she arrived on campus as planned and spent time recovering and training in Tallahassee. Whether she had to roam around campus in her wheelchair, or slowly walk to her classes or practice with an unsteady gait as a result of her injury, Chacon was determined to be at the university that she gave such a strong commitment to.

“It literally was happening as she was here,” Poole added. “We watched her have to battle all the way through. It’s really a miracle for her to get back to the level that we knew she was capable of playing. That’s not an easy journey for an elite athlete to have to go through. It’s really easy to have some self doubt. It weighs on you mentally.”

Chacon’s family, friends, high school team and her Florida State family were right by her side throughout the recovery process.

“When I got to Florida State two months after the surgery my biggest supporter was Julia (Giampaolo French), our trainer at the time. I spent almost every single day with her for a few hours. She dedicated a lot of her time to my recovery which I will always be grateful for. Also, our strength and conditioning coach at the time, Natasha (Gottlieb). She was super dedicated to putting a specific program together for me to improve in areas until I got stronger and until I healed. I will always be grateful for the work they put in.”

Chacon spoke with nothing but gratitude and appreciation for those who rallied around her. While the injury was not only difficult for her physically, it was just as hard emotionally.

“When I had the injury I felt like I was super wrapped up in it. Because it’s like you’re always thinking about it, it’s always affecting you. I feel like I was always wrapped up in the injury,” said Chacon. “I definitely do feel like a different person than how I was when I was injured. I feel like I’ve grown a lot. I wouldn’t change anything about the experience. It made me grow and mature and appreciate being able to play. Not take my health for granted.”

Poole stood right by her side. Watching her play now as a standout upperclassman is a dream come true for not only Chacon, but for so many others.

“It is a very special feeling for me. It’s something that I believed in and she worked hard to make that dream come true,” Poole said. “It gives validation and that if you believe in these kids, if it’s the right person that will work, and really cares about their team and trying to get better, that they can overcome things. Morgan was able to do that and I am really proud of her and we’ll always be really proud of her.”

Chacon spent countless hours relearning basic skills that we often take for granted. Her heart remained strong and she knew she would not give up her dream of playing for Florida State. Throughout her journey, she learned many important lessons that we all can learn from.

“Two things that were huge for me that I learned is that your body is capable of so much more than you think. I had to take it one step at a time,” Chacon stated. “A strategy that worked for me really well was focusing on little tasks, little challenges. Being happy and celebrating little wins. If you master one thing, you master the next thing, and you can build on these little positives for yourself.”

“Two things that were huge for me that I learned is that your body is capable of so much more than you think. I had to take it one step at a time.”

Morgan Chacon

When Chacon arrived in Tallahassee in Jan. 2018, it might have been unimaginable to think she could produce the kind of career she’s had. While progress was made during the off-season going into her first season, it was best that she take a medical redshirt to fully heal.

In 2019, she emerged as the dual threat she currently is today, playing in every set and every match and being a starter. Chacon led the Seminoles with 320 digs and proved what she was capable of. Her intense rehabilitation guided her toward the success she experienced in her first full season.

Then in 2020, despite the COVID-shortened season, Chacon’s work was validated with an All-ACC Team selection as well as a spot on the AVCA All-Region Team. She even earned ACC Player of the Week on March 17, 2021, after leading FSU in points (37.0) and kills (35) in home wins over No. 14 Notre Dame and Virginia Tech.

And her fine work continues in FSU’s remarkable 2021 season. Despite the Seminoles having their youngest team since 1999, Chacon has helped the Seminoles to a 19-8 overall record and an 11-6 mark in the ACC. She continues to be that indispensable player the Seminoles need, perhaps highlighted by her first win over rival Florida when she led FSU with 14 kills and 14 digs.

Her road to recovery was not an easy one, but Morgan Chacon’s hard work and determination to come back better and stronger is an inspiration. Her story also serves as a reminder that when facing adversity, taking small steps forward and celebrating the little victories is vital to healing and coming back stronger than before.

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