Melina Salter's thoughts are blurry about what happened on Feb. 13, 2009. But she has no problem remembering exactly what happened last Tuesday.
That was the day she returned to athletic competition for Chattanooga Christian for the first time since that fateful day more than a year and a half ago when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. And her return was a triumphant one as the CCS volleyball team defeated new District 7-AA opponent Signal Mountain -- last year's TSSAA Class A champion. The Lady Chargers are now 3-1 in the league.
Salter at least remembers it was at Notre Dame and early in the basketball game when she went down with her injury. She recalls having a few seconds of pain, then feeling the leg beginning to numb.
"I just thought that I twisted it," said Salter, daughter of former CCS boys' basketball coach Eddie Salter, who's now a football assistant with the Chargers. "I was asking if I could play the second quarter. It only hurt a little bit when I walked on it. I thought it would be all right if I could just ice it a bit."
She didn't make it back for the second quarter. Instead she went to a hospital for X-rays. Ultimately CCS trainer Brianna Malloy put Salter through some tests and concluded there was a tear.
Salter accepted she would be out the rest of that basketball season, as well as all of her junior season in volleyball. She had hopes of returning to the basketball court some time last season, but yet another setback plagued her during the rehabilitation process.
"It was really a long and painful recovery because I had staph," Salter said of an infection doctors weren't aware of at first but eventually found.
When Salter first returned to the volleyball team, her participation was limited. First-year coach Dan Basler said he allowed her to do some setting in practice but not participate in any of the six-on-six drills.
Salter received clearance from doctors the day before the Signal Mountain match. Dressed out and on the bench, she heard her coach call her name. Basler said he made the call because he didn't like the way his team performed in a 25-17 loss in the opening game.
"I was just real surprised at what a seamless transition it was," Basler said. "It was such a big match and she looked like she had been practicing with us forever, like she's been playing this whole year."
Signal Mountain coach Jennifer Redman acknowledged the substitution made a big difference. Salter ended up having eight assists in the match, plus two kills, two blocks, two digs and an ace, and CCS won out.
Basler said a key component with Salter's return, in addition to her being a great teammate, is the flexibility it provides him. Previously the Lady Chargers were limited to running a 5-1 set with Gracie Smith, who has 153 of the team's 179 assists with Salter now next with 20, as the lone setter.
"I've thought about letting Melina do the setting all the way around," Salter said. "She's a natural setter. That would free Gracie up to play libero, which is where she played last season. I might stick with two setters. Having Melina back is a big bonus. It gives us a lot of options."
CCS is currently 5-8 heading into a difficult 5:30 p.m. road match today against GPS, which won the 32-team Choo Choo tournament over the weekend. Yet no sub-.500 record or upcoming rugged opponent seems to be going to dash the revamped Lady Chargers' hopes right now.
"I don't think it's because of me," Salter said, "but if we try really hard, we're good enough to go to state."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.