Nov. 20, 2008
By Laura McCrystal
Notre Dame Sports Information
Notre Dame senior Mallorie Croal understands that physically playing volleyball is not necessarily the most important aspect of being part of a team.
Croal, who has been struggling with an ankle injury since her sophomore year, played her last match for the Irish on Oct. 21 at Long Beach State.
“Towards the beginning of our regular season play this year, I had just taken a few steps backward. I had noticed that I was really in a lot of pain,” Croal says. “We tried some new different treatments to see if I could keep going, but ultimately I decided that it would be better for me to just be there on the sidelines.”
Even though Croal no longer plays for the Irish, her routine has not changed. She still attends every practice, conditioning session, team meeting, and game.
“I’m just glad that I’m still able to be there and contribute as much as I can even if it’s not physically, but emotionally,” she said.
Croal, who grew up in Orange County, Calif., began playing volleyball in fifth grade because her older brother and sister both played the sport.
“It was the family thing to do. And then I kind of just fell in love with it. I love that it’s a team sport and that I’ve made so many great relationships with friends through it.”
Croal also played soccer, softball, and basketball while growing up. When she entered high school, she had to make a choice between volleyball and soccer. She chose volleyball because she felt that she was slightly better at it and because many of her friends planned on playing volleyball.
Each of the four siblings in the Croal family played volleyball in high school. Mallorie and her younger brother both continued at a college level. Her brother currently plays volleyball at Long Beach State.
Mallorie began to think about playing college volleyball toward the end of her sophomore year of high school. She went to national tournaments with recruiters. In addition to Notre Dame, she looked at Ivy League schools and colleges in California. Halfway through her junior year, however, she decided to play for Notre Dame.
“I thought it was the whole package. I grew up loving Notre Dame. I didn’t have any family that ever went here, but I thought the combination of academics and athletics and the spiritual side of it made it the perfect fit for me.”
Immediately during her freshman season at Notre Dame, Croal got a lot of playing time with the Irish.
“First of all, as a player she’s an excellent all-around player” Notre Dame head volleyball coach Debbie Brown says. “I think that’s what made her such a great player was her ability to thrive in pressure situations.”
Croal said that one of her favorite memories of playing at Notre Dame was the BIG EAST tournament final during her freshman year against Louisville.”It was a really good game and we went to five [sets]. Also going to the NCAA tournament my freshman year was really cool.”
During her sophomore season with the Irish, Croal was named to the all-BIG EAST first team. She played in all 32 matches of the season and started 21 of them.Even while Croal experienced success on the court, the team aspect of her sport was most important to her.
“My favorite part of [volleyball] is that it’s a team sport and I’ve really grown close to all the girls I’ve met here. It’s a really competitive sport. It’s fast paced. Crowds tend to enjoy it. But mostly it’s the team aspect of it.”
The spring of her sophomore year, Croal landed on a teammate’s foot during practice and tore the cartilage in her right ankle. She had surgery six weeks later with hopes of recovery by the fall season.
When her junior season began last fall, Croal was still recovering from the surgery. She was only able to play in six matches, and due to her pain, she only played for a few points at a time.
Even as she sat on the sidelines and struggled through pain during the season, Croal remained a strong leader for her team. She also said that one of her favorite memories of Notre Dame volleyball occurred during her junior season.
“Last year we beat Louisville towards the end of our BIG EAST conference play. It was kind of a big upset. We weren’t really expected to win. It was at home and we had a lot of fans there. It was a lot of fun,” Croal says.
Following her junior year, Croal elected to have surgery for the second time. Once again, she hoped to recover in time to play during her final season with the Irish. She was able to play a limited amount at the beginning of the season.”I wasn’t practicing or playing as much as I had been, and I realized I was kind of where I was last year.”
Croal was in constant contact with coaches and doctors as she considered whether she should try to continue to play. She said that she made her final decision because she had to balance her desire to play with her need to use her ankle in everyday activities for the rest of her life.
After the match against Long Beach State at the end of October, Croal decided that she would no longer play. She said that it was a good place to end her volleyball career because she is from southern California and her whole family was able to attend and to see her play for the last time.
Although Croal gave up playing volleyball after that match, she has not given up her commitment to her team.
“The last thing I wanted to do was abandon my team or anything like that. It’s been really good. I think I’m finally at peace about my decision and I’m finally starting to feel better which is nice because I’ve been going through this for a long time.”
Brown expressed regret that Croal was not able to play to her full potential in the last two years at Notre Dame, but she praised Croal’s leadership abilities.
“I’ve coached for over 25 years and I honestly haven’t had a player who’s dealt with [an injury] in a more positive, constructive way,” Brown says. “She’s just so thoughtful of the team and she’s always thinking about the team first and she’s always thinking of ways to still give to the team even though she can’t physically be out there.”
Croal said that her injury, while not an enjoyable experience, has caused her to reevaluate her point of view.
“I would just say that it was one of those things that I ever wanted to happen. But it did, and I feel like I’ve just learned so much from it, and grown to be a better person and have a different perspective on things and a different outlook on everything in general.”
Now, as Croal looks to her future, she plans to enter nursing school after graduating from Notre Dame this spring with a management consulting degree.
During her sophomore year of college, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she credits in part with her desire to become a nurse.
“The stories that she would tell me about the nurses and how comforting they were. They gave her that sense of comfort.”
Croal said she decided that she wanted to be a nurse last year. She had traveled with the volleyball team to the hospital for community service activities and had talked with children in the critical care unit and their families.
Her experiences have led her to consider pediatric or oncological nursing. However, she is leaning toward a focus in nursing administration so that she can apply her business degree to her career.
As she waits for acceptances from the four nursing schools she has applied to in California, Croal said that her top choice is currently UCLA.
Both on and off the volleyball court, Croal has proven that she is capable of being both an encouraging and inspirational individual to the people around her.
“She’s one of those players who has all the intangibles you look for,” Brown says, “and she has the ability to make the people around her better.”