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Courtesy: GoBearkats.com
Persistence Pays For 5th-Year Senior
Courtesy: Brandon K. Scott/Huntsville Item
Release: 09/12/2012
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Fifth-year senior Kim Black didn't know if she would be able to play for the Sam Houston State volleyball team in 2012.

But she spent the entire offseason working out as if she would be. Black had done senior night with her classmates the year before and her eligibility was officially done after four seasons with the Bearkats.

But thanks to a passionate teammate and coach with the unwillingness to accept "no" for an answer, Black is back.

The discussion came up last winter when SHSU volleyball head coach Brenda Gray and her daughter Tayler, also a player on the team, had lunch at Subway on Sam Houston Avenue. They talked about Black's freshman year when she was always sick, sometimes too sick to walk to class. Fortunately for Black, she's a product of Huntsville High School and her family still lives in town. So when she didn't feel well, she just went home.

Between being a freshman and Black unable to stay healthy, she didn't play much in 2008. There was little playing time before conference and Black only played a total of eight points (not matches, but points) in the back end of the conference schedule.

However, due to an NCAA rule that says players who participate in the second half of their conference schedule are unable to redshirt, Black played just five games in her first year of eligibility.

Only what could be deemed by the NCAA as a "catastrophic event" could give Black a slim chance of returning for a fifth season with the Bearkats.

Tayler Gray played with Black at Huntsville High School for two years, so the two have a relationship that dates back long before either suited up for Sam Houston. Gray, as teammates and coaches can attest, is one of the most passionate athletes on the team.

Combine the fire in her belly with the desire to have Black on the team for another year, knowing what she knew about the situation, the younger Gray started digging for ways to challenge the rule.

Meanwhile, Black, the Grays and assistant coach Ellen Andrews started pulling together medical records to make a case for Black's return.

 "I think Tayler realized what a pillar Kim was to the program," Brenda Gray said. "She's not flashy, but she's very good defensively. She's a very good blocker. For the most part, she's going to do everything right. She really puts the program and volleyball first."

If ever a player to fight for, this was the one. But the crew needed to convince the NCAA of catastrophe to request another year of eligibility for Black.

She had been misdiagnosed so many times when she was sick in 2008 that it was difficult to determine exactly was wrong with her. Black would get rashes, her eyes swelled, and unusual fatigue hit her like a bus.

Black ended up with mononucleosis and her personal physician thought she may have also developed a combination of ailments with symptoms ranging from sensory irritation of the eyes, nose, throat; neurotoxic or general health problems; skin irritation; nonspecific hypersensitivity reactions.

Aside from the sickness, Black's mother was going through cancer and her father suffered two heart attacks in a three-month span. It was a catastrophe if Black ever knew one.  There she was a freshman in college, sick but unsure why, and dealing with sick parents as well.

"It was a really tough time," Black said.

But eligibility was denied twice through the appeals process between December and July. Black kept training, getting up at 5 a.m. for workouts and lifting weights with what were still her former teammates, with no real indication that she would actually play.

Some good news came in late July following a third appeal. The Grays and Black thought the final result was certainly worth the effort in the long run.

"Give a lot of credit to Curtis Collier, our compliance director," Coach Gray said. "Curtis worked so hard with our appeals. It really was a team effort."

Tayler Gray also agreed that Kim's presence on the team brings something special

"Before we started the season we said we were 1-0 because to get Kim back was our first victory," Tayler said. "It was something very special and something that doesn't happen very often. To have Kim back is huge. She's an energy giver. We did lose a lot (last season) but we gained a lot back once we got her back."

The fifth-year senior again leads the team and ranks high in the Southland Conference in total blocks. With 54 blocks this season going into Thursday's league opener with Oral Roberts, Black has climbed to number two in the SHSU career block standings with a total of 416. Karen Zoch holds the school record with 536 blocks piled up between 1984 and 1987.

Black is using this season to try to make her teammates better, more so than she ever has. After four years of college and going through everything she did to get back, there isn't much Black hasn't seen at this level.

That can only be good for the Bearkats and Black is just soaking it all in.

"It wakes you up and shows you not to take anything for granted," Black said. "You go through your four years and the seniors will tell you, it goes by super quick. You look up and it's all gone. So I guess this year is to not take anything for granted, to be appreciative of the things I get to do every day, for being able to wear Sam Houston on the back of my jersey.

"You play even harder for your coaches and teammates knowing they fought for you to come back. I want these girls to understand that you don't always get this chance."

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