CHICO — Rachel Degnan struggled to get the volleyball over the net as a sixth grader.
The 12-year-old was frustrated.
It was Degnan’s dad, Jay, who came to her rescue.
“He took me outside, and he had me play against the wall and hit against the (house),” Rachel Degnan said. “I started setting in my room because when it was raining, I could set even if I couldn’t hit.”
Degnan made varsity her freshman season. She improved to the point where she is the No. 1 option at setter for the Crosspoint Warriors this season as a senior.
But her dad wasn’t there Tuesday afternoon to witness Degnan, and her teammates clinch a berth in the Bi-District 2B championship game with a 3-0 win over Friday Harbor.
The Warriors are one win away from going to state for the first time since 2007.
Jay Degnan was diagnosed with brain cancer in the summer of 2013. Jay fought long and hard in the last four years but is now in a full-time care facility at Bainbridge Island.
While Rachel Degnan celebrated with her teammates after Crosspoint’s exhilarating 25-22, 25-22, 28-26 win, there was a piece of her that was missing.
“He just really taught me to love the sport that I’m doing and give it my all,” Rachel Degnan said of her dad. “I’ve always wanted him to see me play in every single game.”
The Degnan family, which includes brother David, a senior at George Fox University, have a strong faith in the Lord. They are relying on their beliefs to see them through Jay’s illness.
That’s not to say it hasn’t been hard.
“We’re not perfect in any way, shape or form,” said Jennifer Degnan, Rachel’s mom. “We struggle like anyone else does. But without our faith, I think this journey would be a lot harder. What do you have to look forward to? What do you have to lean on.”
There were times when Rachel hit the ball harder than was necessary at practice or when her focus wasn’t there during a game like it should be.
Crosspoint coach Ellen Baxter said volleyball has probably been a sanctuary for Rachel.
“Her release (hitting) the ball when you’re mad at circumstances,” Baxter said.
But through it all, Rachel knew she was never alone.
She had teachers, coaches, classmates, teammates and her mom willing to listen, offer advise or just talk. Hugs were a given.
“It’s been hard for me, but I have great support here,” Rachel said. “It’s been very, very helpful for me.”
The school’s there whenever the Degnan’s needed help — whether it was the principal bringing them dinner or helping them move.
“Every time we’ve asked for help, the whole school has rallied,” Jennifer Degnan said.
His family visits Jay as often as they can.
“Even when he was able to he’d come, and he’d still watch, and he’d take great joy (watching Rachel),” Jennifer said. “Whenever I visit him I tell him how she’s doing. It’s hard. We miss having him around.”
Cancer has diminished his memory, leaving Jay confused as to which family members he sees.
“He’s called me his sister a few times, which has been hard, but I understand,” Rachel said. ‘It’s not his fault.”
“He’s reached the point where traveling is just too hard because he’s wheelchair-bound,” Jennifer Degnan said. “We fought long and hard. Now we’re just waiting for when God decides to take him home.”
Jennifer Degnan said they’ve never asked God why.
“There are times we’re like, seriously? But even in the crappiest of days, He’s been super faithful to us,” she continued. “We’re really grateful.”
Rachel said she will pause at certain moments, even in games, to thank the Lord for giving her legs to walk and the ability to play volleyball.
“That’s just a blessing as it is,” she said.
She also sends a prayer for her dad.
“Thank you to my father who taught me to love the sport,” she said.