After more than a year off the court, Loyola men’s volleyball setter Garrett Zolg is preparing for a comeback.
The last time Zolg played in a match was more than a year ago, at the NORCECA Challengers Cup at the U.S. Olympic Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado in August 2019.
Zolg was one of only two active college men’s volleyball players on the U.S. team — the rest being professional athletes. He was riding high.
“I was playing with some really, really high-level guys,” Zolg said. “I felt good.”
That fall, it all came crashing down. Zolg said he was dealing with multiple injuries — a foot problem and an issue with the cartilage in his knee — and, beginning in November 2019, had to weigh whether or not to redshirt in the spring.
Zolg missed the Ramblers’ home opener against King University Jan. 2, and was officially ruled out for the year Feb. 21 after missing the first 14 games of the season.
Before he was banged up, Zolg was named to the First Team All-Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) — his second such selection — and an All-American honorable mention. He was also selected to the U.S. Men’s Collegiate National Team.
For Zolg, the decision to redshirt was anything but easy. He describes himself as a “lead by example guy,” and said that he was thinking about the team when he finally decided to commit to the season-long hiatus. More than anything, Zolg said he didn’t want to be a distraction to his teammates. He initially only told close friends and family about his decision.
Shortly after winter break, Zolg let the rest of the team know that he would be taking the season off and fully committed to his new role. While he initially struggled with being on the sidelines, Zolg said he tried to find ways to “boost the level of the gym.”
Zolg said he received a steroid injection in his knee area to deal with the pain, but that it was his ankle that gave him and the coaching staff the most pause. After MRIs and X-Rays failed to find the source of the pain, he said he began taking medication.
“The heel stuff was super weird, it kind of just disappeared on its own,” Zolg said. “It was over the course of months that it went from pretty severe to the point where I could play and practice towards the end of last year.”
Head coach Mark Hulse said the decision was made easier by Zolg’s understanding of what was best for the team.
“Sometimes there’s a struggle there when guys are trying to get back,” Hulse said. “He knew that it was going to maybe take a bit of a longer route, and I think that was good for him.”
Hulse said the team missed their star setter last year. He said there was a “void” that Zolg normally fills on the court with his intensity and his voice.
“He’s a pro about how he handles his body,” Hulse said. “You could tell he wanted to be here.”
This summer, Zolg committed himself to rehabbing his knee. He said he feels great, in large part due to the tools he had at his disposable back home in Huntington Beach, California. He credits his father, a physical therapist, with helping him with his recovery.
“I feel myself getting better, week by week, month by month,” Zolg said. “Since I’ve been here, [I’ve been] getting stronger, getting my game back.”
This season, Zolg said he expects to play — if the upcoming season is able to be played despite COVID-19. While Ramblers have two other setters on their roster — sophomore Brian Voight and first-year Dan Mangun — neither have seen any game action at the collegiate level.
Zolg, an exercise science major, plans on staying at Loyola for another year and working toward his masters degree. He said the extra year of eligibility he saved by redshirting allows him to make the most of his athletic career.
“When I got here the goal was to win a national championship,” Zolg said. “Now I [have] a chance to maybe add two.”