STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
When most high school athletes sign their letter of intent to play at the collegiate level, they talk about the usual things that got them there: hard work, dedication, perseverance.
As Marble Falls High School senior Naomi Pegues signed her letter on Jan. 9 to commit to Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, North Carolina, she shared a different story, one that stemmed from a major injury that could have ended her volleyball career.
During a volleyball match in Fredericksburg in May 2018, Pegues was making a routine play when she landed hard on her left leg. The impact tore her anterior cruciate ligament. It basically sidelined her the rest of the year, including her senior volleyball season.
As a young volleyball player eyeing a chance at playing in college, the injury was shattering — not just physically but emotionally.
“I was so focused on the negative,” she said, referring to her state of mind then.
Up until the injury, Pegues was enjoying a tremendous spring her junior year. She was a member of the 4×200-meter and 4×400-meter relay teams that set school records and ran at the Class 5A Region IV meet and the Texas Relays in front of Leonel Manzano, a 2004 Marble Falls graduate and the 1,500-meter silver medalist at the 2012 Olympics.
Pegues was getting ready to go all in with her select volleyball team, Texas Eclipse, and saw the friendly match in Fredericksburg as a chance to work on her game. After all, competitors never turn down a chance to get better.
“It was heartbreaking,” Marble Falls head volleyball coach Tanya Powers said of Pegues’s injury. “I know the passion and love she has for this game.”
That love started more than a decade ago when Pegues watched her older sister, Danielle, play volleyball at Marble Falls High School. Danielle went on to play the sport at Texas Woman’s University, and Naomi made the trips with her parents to watch her sister’s matches.
Danielle was Naomi’s first coach and told the family that they younger girl had the “beautiful hands” of a setter.
“Everything she did, I wanted to do,” Naomi said about growing up with Danielle, who is 14 years older. “We were inseparable. Watching her play and having so much fun, I wanted to play college volleyball, too.”
Though Naomi was following the same path as Danielle — playing volleyball for the high school squad as well as a select team – she began leaving footprints of her own. Her mother, Katy Marshall, noted that her youngest daughter played just about every position on the court, depending on the needs of the team. She earned all-district honorable mention twice and set the school record for most digs in a season.
In the spring, Naomi ran track and did the same – competing in events that best suited her and helped the squad.
When coaches talk about wanting athletes who are “coachable,” they mean an athlete who puts the needs of the team before their personal goals and has a good attitude. Naomi fit the bill.
After tearing her ACL, Naomi found herself in an unfamiliar place.
“Sports are my whole life,” she said. “Not being able to run or play volleyball really hurt me. Running for me is a stress reliever.”
Two weeks after the injury, Naomi went in for surgery. Following that, she started seeing Audra Hughes, a Highland Lakes physical therapist who has helped numerous athletes with the physical and mental challenges of recovering from serious injuries. Hughes noted athletes must have mental toughness to endure the physical hurdles of strengthening a ligament over several months after the injury. It typically takes 12 months after an ACL injury before an athlete is released to compete. But for Naomi, it was eight months.
Hughes said the biggest challenge with Naomi wasn’t getting her do the physical therapy; it was keeping her from doing too much too soon.
It also helped that sister Danielle, now an occupational therapist, had also torn her ACL, so Naomi found someone who understood the injury and knew firsthand how to come back from it.
Still, Naomi said she remained in a dark place mentally throughout the summer following her injury. When fall training camp for volleyball started in late July, Naomi felt worse.
Powers said her teammates missed Naomi’s senior leadership.
“She truly loves the game, wants to win, and pushes herself to her limits,” the coach said. “She continued to help with the team even though she could not participate. She showed others a true love for the program and the game, actively playing or not.”
During her senior year, Naomi and her mother took a trip to Wilmington, North Carolina, where Naomi’s brother lived. Naomi fell in love with the state and decided she wanted to play collegiate volleyball there.
The family contacted the coach for the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, who told them her roster was full. But she said she often gave scholarships to players from a couple of junior colleges in the area, including Cape Fear.
After Cape Fear coaches studied Naomi’s recruiting film, they offered her a scholarship, which she accepted.
Back in Marble Falls, Naomi returned to physical therapy and also spent time at G10 Academy and with its track coach, Anthony Torns, the former Marble Falls track coach who had coached Pegues for years.
Torns told Pegues something that changed her perspective.
“We’re going to concentrate on what you can do, not on what you can’t,” he said.
A fresh mental outlook coupled with a determined work ethic means Pegues will be able to run track this spring.
The injury also made her realize that she wants to become a physical therapist.
“This injury isn’t going to stop me,” she said.