Volleyball team dons pink uniforms in October to raise awareness for Breast Cancer

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The Lady Panthers gather for a photo on Dig Pink Night, as Liberty Hill Junior High volleyball players and their families joined in wearing pink to raise awareness for breast cancer. The Lady Panther volleyball team wore pink every night for the better part of October. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By LANCE CATCHINGS

The month of October was not only important to the Liberty Hill varsity volleyball team because they went undefeated in 19-4A district play. This year, during the month of October, the team wore pink jerseys for Breast Cancer Awareness month in order to help bring light to a cause that hits home for everyone involved with the volleyball program, both past and present.

“We have done ‘Pink Out’ month for the past seven years or so,” said Head Volleyball Coach Gretchen Peterson. “Connie Maples was the parent of a junior high player back then. They would sell shirts and take donations, and when her daughter moved up, she just carried it over to Liberty Hill High School.”

LHISD Trustee David Nix is also a parent of a volleyball alumnus from Liberty Hill. Nix and his daughter, Allee, lost their wife and mother to colon cancer in the 2015 summer before Allee started her senior season. Last summer, Nix wanted to do something to help raise awareness against a universal enemy.

“My daughter played volleyball for Coach Peterson and always commented that other teams had pink jerseys, and it would be neat if we had them to raise awareness,” he said. “At some point, I decided to help make this happen. I approached Coach Peterson to be sure she was okay with it. She got it approved through Coach Jeff Walker, and we facilitated purchase of the uniforms through the booster club. Without Coach Peterson and Coach Walker’s support, it could not have happened. Cancer is a common enemy to all of us, so this meant something to the girls. It was also a way to help thank the community for all they did for us when my wife was sick.”

This season, the varsity wore the breast cancer awareness jerseys for the first time, but Nix hopes in the future, all volleyball teams will have them. He praised coach Peterson for her efforts and involvement with the uniforms.

“This year, we gave for varsity, and ultimately our goal is to buy another set so the junior varsity can have them, as well,” Nix said. “Eventually, we will have enough to go around for all of our girls, because they are all important us. Our school provides great uniforms, and this was just something extra that meant a lot to the girls. Coach Peterson is such a wonderful person and role model, not just for the girls, but all the kids at the school. She had a great impact on my daughter’s life, and she is just a super person. It’s a different cancer that affected my wife, but it’s all cancer. Coach Peterson, Coach Walker and the booster club really made it very easy to do, and they were all supportive. It took all of their support, and they were all very gracious and willing to make it happen for the girls. I contacted Bart Turek and Gigi Whitehead with the booster club, and they helped facilitate the donation of the uniforms.”

In July, a former coach of many of the Lady Panthers at Liberty Hill Intermediate School, Holly Kociuba, was diagnosed with breast cancer. When the team found out, it helped push their efforts forward. This year, they raised more than $3,000 for breast cancer awareness.

“Mrs. Kociuba coached all of these girls in the fifth and sixth grade,” Peterson said. “All of her children graduated from Liberty Hill, and they are just a great family in our community. All of the collected money from donations and t-shirt sales went to the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Texas.”

Kociuba always stayed involved with the movement prior to being diagnosed, and like most, never thought it would happen to her.

“All of the volleyball girls I coached in P.E. at Liberty Hill Intermediate School, and I’ve been here for 14 years,” Kociuba said. “I didn’t know they knew about my breast cancer, but my daughter Ella posted something online about me. The girls found out about my breast cancer through the post. I was diagnosed on July 17th and had my surgery August 24th. I had a mastectomy, and thankfully, they got it all. I don’t have to do chemotherapy, so I was very fortunate. I bought shirts from the team in past years to support in the month of October. You never think it’s going to affect you. I had no history of cancer. It’s weird to realize that now I was someone that benefitted from all of the research to which the money goes. You never think it’s going to happen to you.”

Kociuba is very proud of the 2017 Lady Panthers and all their efforts on the court and beyond. She knows them well and believes they all have bright futures ahead of them.

“They are a wonderful group of girls,” she said. “They are all very talented and really hard working. They know how to work as a team, and that team mentality they can take outside of athletics when they move forward in life. They were a lot of fun to coach in fifth and sixth grade. I love those girls, and they have grown into focused young women that are goal oriented. As a group, they have really matured and have bright futures.”

With breast cancer and cancer, in general, affecting so many Americans, Kociuba is proud of the girls fighting for a worthy cause.

“There are so many people that are affected by this,” she said. “Our school counselor was diagnosed, and that’s the reason I went to get checked. To see they are willing to try to bring attention to it is a great thing. It is nice to know that we have young people trying to be aware and help with things like this. All the awareness that is out there really helps those who are going through breast cancer.”

As a cancer survivor, she encourages all women to get checked regularly. Early detection can be a difference maker.

“I would tell everyone to get checked every year,” she said. “I had three tumors, and I had skipped being checked for three years. If they catch it early, it is so much easier. I like to think of my cancer in the rearview mirror now. You have to be mindful every year. It can be a dark moment when you get that diagnosis, but there really is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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