Volleyball player an inspiration on the court

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CROSBY, N.D. - Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lombardi once told his players, "It's not whether you get knocked down; it's whether you get up."

That quote can apply to any athlete, especially a high school volleyball player in Crosby, North Dakota.

Volleyball requires good hand-to-eye coordination, agility, and the ability to jump and hit the ball. To excel at the sport, athletes don't have to possess all of those skills; players like Mariah Jenkins make up for athletic shortcomings with dedication, determination and a fistful of courage.

"She's one of the hardest working players on our team," said Nicole Burtman, Divide County volleyball coach

Burtman says her one-armed middle hitter is a force to be reckoned with.

"People have told me that when I get a kill, the other team cheers, just because they are so amazed," said Jenkins.

Jenkins' left arm was amputated below the elbow after a car accident that also claimed the life of her mother, on July 22, 2018.

"I remember the car rolling, and I just thought to myself, okay, we're getting in a car accident, but I never thought it was going to be as bad as it was," said Jenkins.

She took a year off from volleyball to recover, then returned to the team even stronger this season.

"She came to every open gym, worked hard, worked with my assistant coach to find out different ways to pass the ball and different ways to hit," said Burtman.

This summer, her teammates welcomed her back with open arms.

"Our team is like a family, and she's just like any of the other girls," said Bria Smithberg, Divide County volleyball player.

Opponents have learned not to target Jenkins with the ball.

"It's a real smack in the face when you underestimate her and she just comes out and kills it," said Riley Casteel, Divide County volleyball player.

Even though number 19 has worked her way back into the varsity lineup, nothing comes easy for Jenkins on the floor.

"It takes a lot more effort to jump and get on top of the ball, and passing is a real challenge, but I really think I've gotten better at it, and have improved since the season started," said Jenkins.

Jenkins doesn't play back row, where most of the digging for balls happens, and she rarely serves. She excels at blocking at the net and spiking the ball.

"She's so confident, and she always believes in herself and she knows she can get anything she wants done, done," said Casteel.

This night, Jenkins had nine kills.

"Mariah's an inspiration to others to just never give up and just take one day at a time," said Burtman.

When volleyball season ends, Jenkins will move on to training for track and field. She runs the 100 meter hurdles and competes in high jump, triple jump and long jump, vaulting above her physical limitations in that sport as well.

In July, Jenkins will be fitted for a prosthetic arm.