Gamebreaker Volleyball Helmets

Keeping her head in the game

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

After sustaining a concussion, Marian’s Nietz is back on the volleyball court

By RICH STRACK [email protected]

Like everyone else, Lauren Nietz knows what it feels like to have a headache.

And like everyone else, she does not know the causes of many of her headaches.

Except for this one time.

On the last play of a game, in a volleyball tournament against Merion Mercy Academy, the Marian junior dove on the floor to keep the ball in play and hit the side of her head on the hardwood.

“I kind of just laid on the floor for awhile,” says Nietz. “Then when I got up there was a pounding in my head and I was shaky and dizzy. My teammates said I didn’t look too good.”

The on-site athletic trainer administered an Impact Test, created by Coordinated Health, to Nietz to verify her symptoms. Subsequently, it was determined that she should see a doctor immediately. The doctor diagnosed her condition as a concussion, which defines as “a traumatic injury to the soft tissue of the brain as a result of a violent blow, shaking or spinning. A concussion can cause immediate but temporary impairment of brain functions such as thinking, vision, equilibrium, and consciousness.”

John Fallabel, Marian’s volleyball coach adds,” Impact with a hard object is not necessary to cause a concussion; It can even occur when someone runs fast and stops suddenly, jarring the brain.”

In 2011, the PIAA ruled that, “Any contestant who exhibits signs, symptoms, or behaviors associated with a concussion shall be immediately removed from the event and shall not return until cleared by an appropriate heath care professional with a medical doctor’s degree.”

Following Nietz’s medical diagnosis, her care was turned over to Marian athletic trainer, Mark Gallagher. He said that Marian, like many other area schools, requires that each athlete takes a 45 minute computer-based Impact Pre-Test that assesses his or her reaction time, speed in answering questions, and short term memory. In addition, parents must sign off on this test and be aware of the inherent risks of competitive sport upon the brain.

“In Lauren’s case,” says Gallagher, “we tracked her daily until she was symptom-free. Then we re-issued the Impact Test before she went back to her doctor for clearance. At that point, we put her on a five day protocol where we checked her heart rate, and any signs of headaches or dizziness. First she lightly exercised on a stationary bike. The following day she jogged and did some agility drills. On the third day she did some hard-core sprinting. The fourth day was non-contact volleyball drills followed by full contact practice on the last day.”

“With all of that testing, I only missed two games,” says Nietz, who plays the position of libero, or defensive specialist. “My responsibility to the team is to keep the ball in play and help set up the front line, and to do this I have to dive on the floor a lot.”

Once back in the game, Nietz, wore a padded head band to prevent further injury, but she says it was too loose so her father obtained a soft shell helmet from a middle school football coach and this is what she wears today during the competition.

“This helmet is a perfect choice because it’s soft and she obviously cannot wear a hard helmet due to the possibility of colliding with other players,” says Fallabel. “Before each game she also has to check in with the referee to be approved to play.”

As one might expect with a young lady of high school age, Nietz is concerned about the “look” of the volleyball helmet on her head and what people might say. She has been laughed at by opposing fans who have also snapped pictures of her with their cell phones.

“My teammates are aware of this reaction and before each game they all come up to me and rub my helmet for good luck,” says Nietz.

In the meantime, however, her parents continue to look for a viable alternative, something more “fashionable,” she says with a laugh.

On a more serious note, Lauren Nietz advises that athletes of all sports should be careful about how they play their games.

“The topic of concussions is not something to mess around with,” she says. “Every athlete who loves to compete should take it very seriously.

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