Rachel Steele played with a smile through the entire match of Mountain View's victory of Salem Hills in region eight volleyball. She was smiling because there was a time she wasn't sure if she'd ever play again.
Rachel was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) nearly 16 months ago and has spent that time fighting for her life while still looking to the future.
"She's inspiring," head coach Andrew Young said. "To see someone be in those depths and still coming back is incredible."
To honor Rachel the Mountain View athletic department created an award to be given annually to the player who shows the great fortitude, resiliency, and inspiration for others. Rachel's name is first on the The Steele Strong Award plaque that will remain at the school for years to come.
"I had no clue about the award. I think it's cool," Rachel said. "I didn't know they were going to do that, but it's a neat award to be remembered."
Last June Rachel was playing eight hours of volleyball a day in summer camps preparing for the upcoming season when she began to complain about a stiff neck. Her parents feared it was meningitis and doctors first thought it was a neck strain but tests revealed it was AML.
Rachel was taken to Primary Children's hospital right away and put on an aggressive treatment of chemotherapy and full body radiation. She underwent a bone marrow transplant nearly a year ago but she was never alone in the process. A family member was always with her and never left her side as she would weeks in the hospital.
Rachel was starting to receive heavy attention from colleges but ended up missing her entire junior year because of her illness, a critical time in the recruitment process.
"It was hard, really hard. Not just physically, but emotionally too. I'd watch volleyball but it was super hard because I wanted to be out there," Rachel said.
"She's worked hard to get back. Just a few months ago she could hardly jump and swing, but she's working hard to get back," Rachel's mother said.
Rachel's dream is to still play college volleyball and has kept in contact with a few colleges. Club season starts soon and Rachel is looking forward to showing recruiters that she is back to full strength.
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I keep telling myself if I get good enough something will open up," Rachel said.
Rachel and the other four seniors led their team to a sweeping victory over the Skyhawks in straight sets 25-17, 25-12, 25-20.
"All of the seniors played well, and I thought the girls played really consistently and were emotionally stable through out the match," Young said. "We played strong the whole time. That's really what we've been working for all season long."
The seniors also led Mountain View on the stat line as Steele tallied 17 kills and Michele Hill had 23 digs. Paige Lott and Kelsey Carlson both served up five aces, but Young noted that the victory was a team effort.
"I like it when people don't stand out because that means they're all working hard and playing well," Young said.
The team has looked to Rachel and learned from her story, and applied those attributes of hard work and quality play.
"Make it count and enjoy it," Rachel said. "Enjoy it, just have fun with it."