Haylie Bell was supposed to be a starter for the basketball team as a sophomore two years ago.
But Bell was struck in the back of the head by an errant knee while playing goalie for Highland in a JV girls' soccer game. That injury derailed those plans, but after a lengthy recovery period, she feels at full strength for her senior campaign on the hardwood.
"This is such a short piece of my life," Bell said. "Being sick was a drag, but I knew that I had to sit out to get healthy. I'm ready to do what I need to for us to win."
She finished that soccer game her sophomore year, but she found herself in blinding pain that encased her body and mind 24 hours later.
She was diagnosed with a concussion a traumatic brain injury that would keep her away from the classroom and off the basketball court for the next eight months.
For eight months, Bell battled pain and fatigue that forced her to sleep upwards of 13 hours a day. The normally high-energy athlete was sidelined to combat the painful migraines and searing pain. She missed most of her sophomore year because she was bedridden and worked with her teachers to pass her classes.
Worst of all, she wasn't in uniform when the Rams started their season despite being projected as a starter. She played soccer but loved basketball. She was crestfallen to learn from doctors that she shouldn't play and instead focus on her recovery.
"Everything hurt," Bell said. "I was totally flat-lined. I simply didn't feel like myself. The hardest part was simply not having the strength to sit through class."
The medicine reduced the swelling over time, and Bell began feeling like herself after numerous visits to doctors. Her energy increased and the attacks from the concussion dissipated. At the beginning of her junior year, she felt ready to go back out for basketball.
"The best feeling was just being able to go back to school and not worrying about having to be excused to go home," Bell said. "More than anything, I was excited to play basketball again."
Her parents were supportive but nervous about Bell returning to contact sports. She chose not to play soccer her junior year, and by the time she went out for basketball that season, the lingering effects of the concussion were all but gone. She felt weak from not having exercised but was motivated about returning to the team and becoming a starter.
"Those first few weeks were the worst. I wasn't in shape," Bell said through a smile. "I worked so hard to get ready and to get back on the court."
Highland's girls' basketball team is in a rebuilding phase. Coach Jeremy Chatterton took the reins last season and saw something impressive in Bell. He said that he recognized more than a gifted athlete but also saw somebody with the drive to persevere through adversity.
"It's remarkable what she did to be able to come back to basketball," Chatterton said. "Most people would have quit, but she has great drive."
The Rams only won one game during Bell's return last season, but that mid-season victory was the turning point in Bell's recovery. She felt like herself. The pain and discomfort from the concussion were gone, and the joy from that victory kept her determined to turn around Highland's season.
"It's tough not winning a lot of games, but beating Murray gave us the motivation to finish the season," Bell said. "We're trying to build a new winning tradition."
Meet Haylie Bell
The 5-foot-10 outside shooter wants to play basketball at the collegiate level.
During her recovery, Bell realized that she would like to study nursing in college.
Bell is the only senior on the Highland girls basketball team.