By (Ben Boyton)

Redshirt senior Krystal Rivers stepped off of the court on Nov. 26 for the final time as a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide. She ended her career with more points (2,506) and more kills (2,148) than any other player in program history. She earned SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors five times as a senior and eight times in her career- both Alabama records. This year, she became the first player in SEC history to earn both Volleyball Player of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year in the same season.

With all that she’s accomplished, it’s easy to forget just how far Rivers has come in her career.

Rivers was a walk-on when she joined the program in 2012. The most decorated player in Alabama history had to fight her way onto the team and earn a scholarship. Now, as a record-setting player, Rivers said she still marvels at how far she has come since then.

“I remember thinking that I wasn’t good enough to play in college,” Rivers said. “We’d do this game called Playground and we’d build our teams and I wouldn’t get picked. It was a little bit discouraging, but I just look back on that time now and remember at some point it just kind of clicked that I was good enough…ever since then it’s just been a great journey.”

Rivers played volleyball and tennis in high school, and graduated with a 4.48 cumulative GPA. She came to Alabama on an academic scholarship, and decided to try and walk on for the volleyball team. She met with Coach Ed Allen and visited the team. Allen also watched her play some in high school and decided to offer her a chance to make the team.

“I think [she’s] a kid that’s as physically gifted as anyone who’s ever played here,” Allen said. “A kid that worked really hard in the year that we redshirted her to get better, and she did.”

After redshirting all of 2012, Rivers played a big role in her redshirt freshman season in 2013. She earned AVCA Honorable Mention All-American honors to go along with All-SEC and SEC All-Freshman Team selections. She led the team in kills with 435 and set a program single-season record with a hitting percentage of .404.

Then, everything changed.

During that successful season, Rivers had noticed some unusual swelling. A biopsy after the season would reveal that Rivers was suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Hodgkin’s lymphoma causes cells in the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune system, to grow abnormally and hinder the body’s ability to fight off infection, per the Mayo Clinic. Luckily, modern medicine has made treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma very effective, and Rivers’s Stage III diagnosis came with an 80 percent survival rate, according to the American Cancer Society.

Chemotherapy can be a mentally and physically taxing process. The American Cancer Society lists nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and easy bruising or bleeding as side effects. For most people, the treatment process is likely to be one free from intense physical activity.

Not for Rivers.

Not only did Rivers take 12 hours of credit during the Spring 2014 semester while also undergoing chemotherapy, she also continued to work out and practice with the team.

“She did a brilliant job…dealing with cancer and adversity,” Allen said. “She’s dealt with a lot of difficulties in a five-year span and has responded as well as what you could hope.”

Rivers said that Allen and the team were a great support system as she underwent treatment.

“I made the decision to stay here because I knew I had a great support system,” Rivers said. “The team was 100 percent behind me. They would come to my chemo sessions, they would stop by, anything I needed they would bring me. Coach came and sat with me as I took chemo and they were a really huge part of keeping me strong.”

Rivers was in complete remission by April 14, 2014, and she finished her last treatment in July of that year.

When the 2014 season rolled around, Rivers became the first Alabama player to earn AVCA Third Team All-American honors. She earned All-SEC honors for a second straight season, and led the team once again in kills with 557.

This all came at a new spot on the floor, as Rivers switched from middle blocker to outside hitter. Rivers has played both positions in college and had success at both, something that Allen said speaks to her versatility and progress made at Alabama.

“Her role hasn’t really changed,” Allen said. “She’s still a go-to player, we just put her in a position that makes it a little easier for us to deliver a ball to her. It helped make a six-rotation player out of her, and this is the first year where she’s really been able to play the whole season as a six-rotation player.”

Rivers feels that her physical ability allows her to make an impact from different spots on the floor.

“Just my athleticism and reaching my potential has made it pretty fun to move around,” Rivers said. “I’ve grown into the type of player that can move around, and Coach has always encouraged that out of me…I wasn’t a volleyball player per se when I got here, I was just athletic, and I’ve grown into a better volleyball player.”

Rivers led the team in kills again as a redshirt junior with 451. Entering her senior season, she had a chance at reaching some milestones in Alabama program history. With key seniors to replace and injuries causing a lot of lineup shuffling throughout the season, Rivers responded with 705 kills, the second-highest single-season total in Alabama history and the …read more

Source:: The Crimson White Sports