Profile: Lee turns pain into gain as she helps lead Eagles into Tuesday’s state quarterfinal game

The last time we saw Lauren Lee she was walking off the court at Dexter High School after helping lead her team to an easy 3-0 win over Trenton in a Division 1 regional semifinal game – that was on Nov. 10. She hasn’t stepped on the court since.

Lee and her talented Skyline teammates had their playoff run interrupted when the MHSAA shut down athletics on Nov. 16 per the emergency order to pause activity by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to limit the spread of COVID-19.

They will resume their season on Tuesday night against Novi at Lincoln HS.

This wasn’t the first time Lee has had her season “interrupted.” But the first time was a lot more painful and long lasting and difficult to deal with. While warming up with her teammates before last year’s first tournament of the season at Saline High School, the then talented sophomore suffered a season-ending injury when she dislocated her ankle and broke her fibula.

She remembers what happened like it was yesterday.

“We were just warming up and a ball was set up at the net and I went up to jump it and a Bedford player doing blocking was underneath the net,” says Lee, who came down – leg first – on the Bedford player.

“As soon as I got out of the hospital I went to a tournament we were playing in Bedford. Everyone was so surprised to see me but I felt like that’s where I needed to be. I tried to make as many of the practices and games I could.”

But the road back was painful and difficult. She had long physical therapy sessions for 12 weeks and couldn’t put any pressure on her leg.

“When I could start putting pressure on it I still had to take it slow,” she said. “I did my PT at ATI Physical Therapy in Ann Arbor on Jackson and they were amazing through the whole process.”

Lee will never forget that day and neither will her teammates. While the Hornets played well and racked up a few wins, the devastation of losing a key member of the team could be seen clearly on their faces. They had other things on their mind that Saturday in Saline than dig, set and spike.

Since her return, Lee has certainly spiked up an impressive impression on her teammates, opponents and coaches.

“She is a very hard worker and has really helped our team reach its goals this year,” says Skyline coach Chris Cristian. “Lauren was able to lead the team to its third District Championships this year and will be leading us to hopefully another final four appearance.”

As a freshman, Lee helped lead the Eagles to their first District championship and an appearance in the Regional finals. Then came, the injury.

“She was tenacious in her physical therapy and wanting to get back to being there for her team,” says Cristian.

Fast forward to this season and Lee faced another kind of challenge to getting back on the court. After missing all of last season she was faced with the possibility of missing another season because of possible COVID-19 restrictions.

“It was frustrating at first but once we got to start playing outdoors on the turf and everyone started to come to practice, it felt like we were going to play,” she said. “We were all very happy when we heard the season was going to start.”

When the season hit the pause button – at least it wasn’t the stop button – the Eagles were flying through the postseason. They easily won Districts and then knocked off a strong Trenton team without even breaking a sweat.

“We had never played Trenton before and had never seen them and we didn’t know anything about them,” Lee said following that match weeks before Thanksgiving. “As we got more comfortable in the game we gained confidence. And we never lower our expectations or our goals. We approach every game with the same fire and it doesn’t matter who the opponent is on the other side and that’s how we approached Trenton and how we approach every game.”

The team Lee was getting ready to play that day in Saline was Bedford, so playing the Kicking Mules this season was special and so were the results. “Yeah, we beat them in three (in the regular season),” said Lee, now a junior and clearly one of the top players on a team full of top players. In 91 sets played, the junior has 867 assists (9.5 average), 40 aces, 177 digs and 53 kills.

And that’s where the Eagles had left off this season – with a match scheduled against Bedford in a Regional final at Dexter. But the game never happened after Bedford had to forfeit because of a positive COVID-19 test. Then, all sports were shut down.

Lee and her teammates, who ran the table to win the SEC Red Division, can’t wait to face the Wildcats on Tuesday with the winner heading to the Final Four in Battle Creek.

“This is such a fun group,” Lee says of her teammates. “The bus rides are crazy and everyone has so much fun. The energy we have on the bus and before games is silly but once we step on the floor we focus on what we need to do.”

The goal for Skyline is to get back to the Final Four.

“We want to get back to Battle Creek,” Lee says. “We made it there last season and we want to get back there again.”

Re-set: MHSAA shutdown actually prolonged Skyline’s playoff run