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Jeff Kolpack, Published November 19 2010

Volleyball: Lopez comeback has Bison feeling strong

She grabbed her stomach, fell to the Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse floor and her face had a look of fear. Later that night, Jennifer Lopez was at a local Fargo hospital.

Her North Dakota State teammates were there, too, and senior Lauren McLaughlin said the feeling was the junior setter’s career could be over. Tubes were hooked up to Lopez, who had suffered a lacerated liver injury in a Sept. 18 match against South Dakota State.

“I know that night it was a shock,” McLaughlin said this week. “And I don’t think it hit us until a couple of days later.”

That wasn’t the only shock Lopez would give her teammates. She showed up during a morning weight training practice a couple of weeks ago on a Monday, which prompted the following thought from teammates: What are you doing?

“She was acting really weird and we had no idea what was going on,” McLaughlin said.

What happened, and what Lopez didn’t tell her teammates until showing up for practice that afternoon, was the unexpected. Instead of being out until spring volleyball, she was medically cleared to play.

Lopez will be in the starting lineup tonight when No. 2 seed NDSU plays No. 3 Southern Utah at 7:30 p.m. in the Summit League tournament at Bentson Bunker. The winner plays for the Summit title and an NCAA tournament berth Saturday at 7 p.m.

It’s a different setting for NDSU from last year’s tourney in the same building. The Bison came in the defending tourney champs and were unbeaten in conference games.

This year, their head coach resigned in mid-season and they lost one of the top players in the league in Lopez. But NDSU has won seven of its last eight and Lopez unexpectedly is back.

“We’ve had to step up to a lot of challenges this year and there’s definitely a different dynamic to our team,” McLaughlin said. “I think we’re all a lot stronger individually and as a team on the court and off the court. I think that strength will help us this weekend.”

And having Lopez back is a big help, too.

“When they said ‘You’re good to go, you can start Monday,’ I was like, ‘Thank you,’ ” Lopez said. “I feel good. Just not doing anything for a month set me back condition-wise, but otherwise I feel fine.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the

Saturday Morning Sports Show, 9-11 a.m.

on WDAY-AM (970).

He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia