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Lewis diggin' the beach

After overcoming medical issues, Auburn native is a star on AVP Tour
By: Joshua Ansley Journal Sports Writer
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In view of personal obstacles Auburn native Angela Lewis has overcome, few professional obstacles were as difficult as defeating one of the best volleyball players of all time. Lewis and her partner, Priscilla Lima, defeated Misty May-Treanor and Nicole Branagh two weeks ago in Hermosa Beach. “It was a huge win, “Lewis said about beating May-Treanor. “I played volleyball against her in high school in the state finals. I played against her in club. I played against her in college. But I’ve never beaten her.” Along with her former partner, Keri Walsh, May-Treanor was a two-time gold medallist from the Beijing and Athens Olympics. She has more tournament wins than any other player in the game. In 1998, May-Treanor also led Long Beach State to an undefeated season and the NCAA national championship. Given May-Treanor’s dominance in the sport, the win marks Lewis’ greatest achievement in her professional career. Lewis is now ranked 12th on the AVP Tour heading into the San Francisco Open at AT&T Park in three weeks. “It was really exciting,” Lewis said. “Not only numbers wise, but as far as an individual accomplishment. Misty-May is probably the greatest volleyball player ever,” Lewis said. “Nicole is a stud as well.” The match lasted 1 hour and 8 minutes. After losing the first game 15-21, Lewis and Lima came back in the final two games and won 21-17 and 17-15. The victory was enormous, but beating the greatest never comes easy. “It was a battle back and forth. We fought. They fought,” Lewis said. “We knew it wasn’t going to get any easier.” For Lewis, there is very little that has ever come easy on the sand, or off. In fact, it is a wonder Lewis is even alive, let alone playing atop the beach volleyball world. A few weeks into her freshman season at Sacramento State, Lewis began to experience severe headaches to point that she was throwing up. On October 22, 1996 doctors did an MRI scan and found that Lewis was suffering from a brain aneurysm. Half of those who suffer from a brain aneurysm do not survive. Many who do go on suffer from brain damage caused by the rupture and have constant headaches for the rest of their lives. Two days after the diagnosis, Lewis had surgery to repair the ruptured blood vessel. “It’s still shocking to talk about it,” Lewis said. “It’s a miracle.” It was just the beginning for Lewis. “I was hospitalized for about a month and a half and had an open IV running through my body in case they needed to inject something in me quickly,” she said. “I ended up getting a staph infection from the IV, which turned into spinal meningitis.” Doctors became aware of the meningitis after Lewis began to feel intense back pain. Eventually, she was well enough to return home, but the after affects of surgery, infection, and meningitis carried on. “After returning home I had some residual affects from the amount of anti-biotics and drugs they had me on. My liver just had a hard time handling it,” Lewis said. “So I was really messed up after that,” she added. “Then I had a cyst rupture in my ovary, and I almost bled to death, and could have lost limbs from the lack of blood flow.” Going from hospital to hospital and fighting for her life, Lewis could not escape her body’s negative reaction to each previous problem. “Following the rupture I developed scar tissue that was strangling my intestines,” Lewis said. “So I had to have my intestines removed.” Lewis had a difficult time returning to normal after that. “I was really lucky,” she admitted, “But I don’t know if I’ll ever fully recover from that surgery.” Still, it would appear as if Lewis did more than just recover. She excelled. Returning to Sac State her sophomore year, Lewis was named most inspirational player. She would go on to become an All-American the same year Keri Walsh gained All-American status at Stanford. And while her volleyball game was taking off once again, she also made the Big Sky Conference all-academic team. Over the next two years, Lewis would go on to become fifth in kills and and second in career digs for the Big Sky Conference. She was also selected twice to the All-Big Sky team. Yet Lewis had no plans of continuing seriously with volleyball. In 2003, she moved to San Diego. She was playing on the beach once in a while with friends for fun, and that was it. But after a while she started playing a lot more and getting better. “I never thought I’d be playing beach volleyball,” she said. “Back in the day, I never thought I could do it. Especially coming out of Northern California.” By the end of 2003, she was on the AVP Tour. “It’s amazing, coming back from a brain aneurysm and ending up on the tour,” Lewis said. Since joining the tour Lewis has been consistently ranked near the top of the standings, but says that her statistics are not all that matters. “Obviously I want to be ranked higher,” she said. “But I’ve never been a huge stats person. I appreciate stats, but I am not always looking at them.” What matters most is what the sport has done for her. “I don’t know what I’d do without it,” she said. “It helped in dealing with my parents divorce and with all of my physical setbacks. I was able to go to a Division I school, travel the world, and I’ve met amazing friends.” “Plus I love the instant gratification of a kill,” she added. Whether or not Lewis will return to Auburn someday is tough to say given her love of beach volleyball. “I really don’t know,” she said. “I love the area. I love the outdoor activities. I still love snowboarding. It’s so beautiful there. Plus my family is there. For now Lewis is focusing on her play, with this year being her best. “This year has been the best so far. Lima is my best friend. We played together for three years and then she went to another team, and now we are back together,” she said. Beating May-Treanor certainly has a lot to do with that as well. “It was a really big moment,” she said.