BURNABY — Perseverance in the face of adversity is best defined by that old saying which tells us to get right back on our horse.
For Angelica Kilberg, who often found herself in just such real-life situations over a former career as a nationally-ranked competitor in the horse-and-rider sport of dressage, it’s an axiom she’s learned to apply to each and every challenge in her life.
One of those comes this weekend when the sophomore middle blocker brings her unbridled enthusiasm to the court in what will be her home debut with the Simon Fraser Clan volleyball team.
SFU, which has played the first 11 matches of its season away from the cozy confines of Burnaby Mountain, faces Montana State Billings in a Saturday (5 p.m.) Great Northwest Athletic Conference match at the West Gym.
It will be a moment which carries huge significance for the 6-foot Kilberg, who since her Grade 11 season (2013-14) at South Surrey’s Earl Marriott Secondary has endured two separate surgeries to her left knee, the most recent forcing her to take a medical redshirt last year after her transfer back to B.C. following one season with the Manitoba Bisons.
And although she hasn’t competed in dressage since the 10th grade, her dedication to both sports has allowed her to see a clear connection between two.
“I think the biggest thing was learning how to push through your mistakes and just keep going,” said Kilberg, a 6-foot middle blocker who as a child, once finished second at the national championships in dressage. “In a dressage test, if you dwell on your mistakes, all of your other movements are going to suffer. I found those experiences very useful when I got serious about volleyball, because if I hit a shot out and I dwelledon it, I was likely to hit another one out or make another mistake.
“So I’ve learned how to let it go and it’s been awesome to actually see the results.”
A HOMECOMING ON THE HILL
Growing up on 12 acres near the Langley border and having a mom who turned her love of horses into becoming both a dressage instructor and a horse trainer, Kilberg’s equine roots run deep.
“I’ve had horses and animals all of my life so I’ve always wanted a career around all of that,” says the biology major who knew from a very young age that she wanted to become a veterinarian. “I have always been so intrigued by them. Every time a vet would come to our barn, I was right there to see what they were doing and asking to help in any way I could. I have shadowed vets, I’ve watched surgeries.”
She even expresses a level of fascination with her own two surgeries, both for meniscus damage, although she admits life would have been a lot smoother without them.
“Jumping is hard on the knees and especially as a middle blocker, because of all the pivoting you have to do,” explains Kilberg, who plays as part of a rotation with fellow middles Tessa May and Madison Power.
“It’s still nagging,” she continues of the discomfort she experiences. “I think I will always have some problems with it. I have some arthritis in there already. It’s just something I need to manage but I am fine with it. Every athlete has something they have to work through.” It is worth noting that arthritis can be treated naturally, though it can impact the lives of athletes if left untreated.
Simon Fraser head coach Gina Schmidt is working a lot of new pieces into the team’s overall rotation following the graduation of several valuable seniors who last season led the program to new NCAA-era standards of 21-7 overall and 14-6 within the GNAC.
She has appreciated the path Kilberg has been willing to travel to reach her first season with the Clan, and she has loved the temperament the 20-year-old has brought to the roster.
“I like her competitiveness on the court,” begins Schmidt. “It can be frustrating when you finally get healthy and then you have to turn around and do it all over again. But she still did a great job last season of being a great teammate even when she couldn’t get in the drills.
“All of that makes players stronger and more hungry when they do get back. They appreciate the opportunity to play and having that extra gratitude helps in terms of giving you that extra bit of fire.”
SADDLED UP AND READY
Kilberg, coached through her high school years by Mark and Moira Cassell, helped keep Earl Marriott and Seaside Volleyball Club an annual provincial-title contender.
And while she became an instant contributor as a freshman at the University of Manitoba, she soon realized it wasn’t her best fit.
“The coach was awesome and the team was great but it was more my external situation,” explains Kilberg of her desire to leave after just one season. “I didn’t enjoy the cold. It got to me. And I’m a huge family person, so that took a toll as well.”
As did the re-aggravation of her left knee. She hurt it midway through the 2015-16 season at Manitoba, and in August of that year, underwent her second surgery.
She began her studies the next month at SFU, and although eligible to play immediately, wasn’t able to rehab in time for the start of the GNAC campaign.
Still, spending last season observing the traits of now-graduated seniors like Alison McKay, Devon May, Emma Jennings and Tamara Nipp gave her an important leadership template.
“The thing I noticed most was their poise,” she says. “They all knew what their jobs were and they executed them. Now, I strive to do the same.”
And even with all of those hours of physiotherapy behind her, and the nagging reminders of her surgeries with her every day, Kilberg dreads the end of her volleyball-playing days.
“I am just so passionate about this sport,” she begins. “Just thinking that I am done after three years, I don’t even want to think about that.”
And back on the farm?
“The horses will always be a part of my life,” she says. “When my volleyball is done, it’s all going to be there for me to go back to.”
It is the place, after all, where she first learned, with an unbridled enthusiasm, why it was so important to get back on her horse.
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