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At the convention center in downtown Minneapolis on June 29, 2014, Burnsville's newly graduated Greta Geist plays for the Northern Lights 18-1 volleyall team. She is a good player who also battles Hodgkins Lymphoma.] rtsong-taatarii@startribune.com

 

Normal was the word Greta Geist used to describe it.

She took her normal spot on the floor as libero, in front of a normal crowd that included a solid pack of family and friends. Then she did the one thing that helped the last six months of her life find some semblance of normalcy: play volleyball.

Geist, the former Burnsville standout, helped her Northern Lights 18-1 club team to a sixth-place showing at the 2014 Junior National Championships, which wrapped up Tuesday at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

While it was a relatively typical finish for the national powerhouse program, for Geist it felt like an exciting new start.

“To be out there with my team and playing again, it was just — it just felt normal,” she said. “It felt good. It felt like I could finally go back to normal.”

The national tournament marked Geist’s first full competition since being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in early February. After three rounds of chemotherapy treatment, each one lasting 21 days, Geist was declared cancer free in April.

She’s now focused on resuming the “normal” course she had set out — a summer of competing, training and working toward her freshman year on the Southwest Minnesota State volleyball team this fall.

Small detour

Northern Lights coach Adam Beamer described Geist as hard-working, respectful, straight-forward and honest. It comes as no surprise to him the way the two-time captain at Burnsville approached her cancer diagnosis.

“It’s scary at first, but once you learn more about it, it’s more, ‘OK, this is what we need to do about it,’ ” Geist said.

She had Stage II Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, considered common in teenage girls and treatable.

She went through chemo and lost her hair as well as strength and energy. But she still went to school, showed up to volleyball practice and participated in choir.

“Your perspective kind of changes on what’s really important and what you love,” Geist said. “I was just so glad to do those normal things I took for granted. It was a great release for me.”

Full circle

Beamer said it was great to finally see Geist return to her “normal role” on the team at last week’s national tournament. It was as if “everything came full circle,” he said.

But if the competition was Geist’s first moment experiencing normalcy again, Beamer said he learned long before that that she was anything but normal.

In late April, Northern Lights was down players due to injury and faced a stretch of nine games in three days to have a chance to reach nationals. Geist, just days after finishing her final round of treatment, stepped back onto the floor in a limited role.

The team went 7-2 and advanced.

“She stepped out there, bald head and all, diving for balls all over the place,” the coach said. “Everyone watching, you think you have these little aches and pains and issues, and suddenly those things don’t seem so major.

“She’s a great kid and such an inspiration to have out there. People always make excuses, and Greta’s just not one of those kids. She went out there with cancer and still competed. I wish all kids were like that. It’s anything but normal.”

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