How a knee injury catapulted a peak in Whitehall volleyball into a historic career?

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Rayne Thompson, senior from Whitehall, fires a shot over the net against Spring Lake during the Division 2 district semifinals on November 3, 2021. (MLive photo/Josh VanDyke)

Rayne Thompson felt like she was trapped in a bad dream from which she couldn’t wake up.

The Whitehall volleyball star had prepared her entire athletic career for the chance to be the center of her team’s onslaught heading into her junior season last fall. However, her journey took a drastic detour before it even started, as she sustained a knee injury during a preseason scrimmage and missed her entire junior campaign with a torn ACL and partially torn meniscus.

The setback could have derailed Thompson’s career, but instead fueled the talented outside batter even more to commit to the process and gear up for the long journey ahead.

“It was a little challenging at the beginning, but just being with my team was something that really mattered to me, so I just wanted to support them and try to enjoy my junior season as much as possible,” Thompson said of how she coped watching her team from the sidelines in 2020.

The Vikings won the Division 2 district championship last fall before losing out to Grand Rapids Christian in the regional semifinals. Everyone around the schedule entered the off-season with an extra ounce of confidence after the surprise playoff push and hopes that their All-State-caliber outside hitter would rejoin the lineup in 2021.

Thompson recovered from her ACL surgery ahead of schedule and entered the physical therapy session of her journey with a desire to beat the odds.

“There was no doubt in my mind that I would play my senior season,” Thompson said. “For me it was a kind of personal race where once I started something, I really can’t get out of it. If I wasn’t playing volleyball my junior year, I’d be putting all my energy into my physical therapy.”

A strong support system was also essential in Thompson’s struggle to return to the volleyball court, as her mother, Annette Thompson, and Mike Braid, a personal trainer at imove physical therapy, pushed her to the limit.

“(My mom) has been a great inspiration to me ever since she went through such an injury,” said Thompson. “My sister also had a knee injury so I had a great support system to lean on. My mom really pushed me to be my best along with Mike Braid, my physical trainer. He pushed me too. I just love being with those two people because without their help I couldn’t have been where I am today.

“He helped my sister a little bit with her physical therapy, so it was kind of like a family bond that we already had. He’s the best of the best here and he and I had a good relationship. He knew that if he gave me something to work on, I would do it outside of therapy. He trusted me to work 10 times harder when I wasn’t in therapy and once I got that confidence I would keep pushing myself. I wanted to keep making progress and making myself stronger, so when I finally got back on the pitch I was still able to play at a high level.”

Rayne Thompson_LegPress

Whitehall senior Rayne Thompson completes a rep on the leg press during a physical therapy session. (Photo courtesy of Annette Thompson).

A new hobby also emerged from Thompson’s journey back to volleyball, as she began to see results from her time in the gym.

“(Mike Braid) really got me into weight relief, which I love to do now,” admitted Thompson. “Now that I’ve had physical therapy with him, it’s one of my favorite pastimes. I wasn’t really strong physically after my injury, and it really started to affect my mental strength because I couldn’t do anything and I felt a little depressed at first.

“When I started to lose weight, it really helped me relieve stress and work towards something and achieve goals again. It felt great and now it’s something I love, and sometimes I enjoy it more than volley-ball.”

Thompson was cleared to play volleyball in June 2021, eventually working his way back up to full team activity by August camp. When she got back into action, the senior leader played with a newfound confidence in herself and the results spoke for themselves.

The Vikings outside hitter finished her senior season with 566 kills, 374 digs, 60 aces and 53 blocks, helping Whitehall to its second straight district championship. She finished her preliminary career with 1,254 kills, 903 digs, 156 blocks and 143 aces in just 333 sets played.

She earned All-State honors from the Michigan Volleyball Coaches Association.

“I spoke to her trainer before the season and he said Rayne is the best rehab athlete he’s ever had in his 30 years of training,” said Whitehall head coach Ted Edsall after the team’s win over Fruitport in the district championship. “It’s phenomenal. I think she’s a much better player now than she was before she got injured. She has taken the time to get stronger and she is now more confident in her abilities and she is being rewarded with a very strong senior season.

“I tell her every game that she has to be the best player on the field and that was certainly the case tonight.”

Edsall has been a major influence on Thompson’s career at Whitehall since she was a high school volleyball player.

“He’s kind of a father figure to me,” Thompson said of her varsity coach. “He has always pushed me to the limit. He always comes to my cause, which I love and he will never shy away from getting the best out of me. He has opened up great opportunities for me and he has been in my life since I was in seventh grade.”

Thompson’s journey back will kick off next fall as the talented outside hitter will advance her athletic and academic career at Northern Michigan University.

“(Northern Michigan head coach) Mike Lozier has been a big part of my life,” said Thompson. “He has been there for me since I had my knee surgery. We spoke on the phone a week after I got it together and we’ve clicked ever since. We have a great bond. He coached me when I was at their team camp and since then I’ve visited them and met the team and watched them play everything I loved Northern.

“There’s a great vibe there. I love the outdoors, love the colors and I’m just super excited to play there and become a Wildcat.”

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