WILMINGTON — The light at the end of the tunnel was near for Altman Griffin after seven months of rehabbing a stress fracture in her vertebrae.
The redshirt sophomore volleyball player at UNC-Wilmington and Hamlet native spent hours in physical therapy repairing the crack in her spinal column, and was finally primed to return to daily practices earlier this spring.
Having not played any of her freshman indoor season with the Seahawks due to sustaining the injury last fall, Griffin was looking at making a full comeback during spring practices and participating in the beach and indoor seasons over the summer.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the Seahawks’ scheduled workouts, along with all other collegiate athletics across the country, came to a grinding halt.
And Griffin’s hiatus from the sport she loves grew a little longer, but her spirit to return to the court is unwavered.
“It’s been tough not having a routine, especially when I was healthy enough to return,” Griffin said. “But my injury and the pandemic gave me a new respect and love for the game.
“They changed me most in that way, and I learned that no matter what happens, I want to play any way possible,” she added. “This whole situation made me love the game even more since I wasn’t able to play.”
Prior to the nationwide shutdown of college athletics, Griffin had been actively participating in UNCW’s workouts and beach matches for about seven weeks. She started out with the beach volleyball program, fine-tuning her skills in the sand for five weeks, but decided to switch her focus to the indoor team in preparation for the upcoming schedule.
“We got to practice four times (for indoor) and the pandemic happened,” she explained. “It stinks we didn’t get to play for very long, and it really was just bad timing for me. But I can’t do much about it.”
Griffin said one of the things she is able to do despite indoor facilities being closed is workout daily to stay in shape. She recently participated in the Ranse Jones Beach Jam, a memorial tournament played in honor of Jones, who was a 1998 UNCW graduate and avid beach volleyball player.
Along with several of her Seahawk teammates, Griffin participated in the eighth annual tournament on June 27 at Capt’n Bill’s Backyard Grill. Jones passed away in Nov. 2010 after suffering a stroke caused by a brain aneurysm at the age of 34 during a beach volleyball tournament in Florida six months earlier.
The event raises money for the Ranse Jones Stroke Awareness Fund at Broward Health North. Since the event began, teams have raised over $270K dollars. This year’s winning co-ed four-person team was made up of UNCW’s David Fischer (associate head coach), Kelly Rowe, Kristy Mundy, Mitch McDaniel and Pete Devonare.
Griffin said it was her “first time playing (competitive) volleyball in forever” and that she “felt really good getting back on the court.”
With the looming uncertainty of whether or not the Seahawks or any other collegiate or high school athletic program getting a chance to play this fall, Griffin and her teammates are also adapting to newly hired head coach Dottie Hampton.
Hired in May, Hampton will take over a program that went 14-15 last year under former coach Amy Bambenek.
“We’ve been having a lot of Zoom meetings and that’s to try and get to know the incoming freshmen and our new coach,” Griffin said. “It’s been pretty tough because normally we’d be having camps right now and playing.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people that Coach Hampton is a great coach,” she added. “It’ll be good for the program because she’s big on making sure every practice is our best and she likes to hold every player accountable.”
An exercise science major, Griffin, who stands 6-feet, will continue her role as an outside hitter for Wilmington.
“It’s hard to say what my playing time will look like since I haven’t played in a game since last summer,” Griffin closed. “But my attitude going into the season is to help the team any way possible, continue practicing my hardest and I’m eager to show I’m ready to get back into the game.”