Players and spectators look to the ball after a set by Grace Beekman, a freshman setter. The Cougars won the first and fourth sets against UT Martin

Players and spectators look to the ball after a set by Grace Beekman, a freshman setter. The Cougars won the first and fourth sets against UT Martin.

Women’s volleyball hosted a fundraiser to raise money for the Side-Out Foundation in honor of Dig Pink Weekend. While the team has participated in Dig Pink Weekend for years, the event has become personal. 


Ellen LeMasters, a senior outside hitter from Indianapolis, lost her mother to breast cancer her freshman year. She said it’s empowering to honor her and those her teammates have known who have battled breast cancer. 


“It can be hard at times just because it’s definitely a constant remembrance of her, but on the flip side of that, it’s a good way to remember and honor her and honor her fight and her battle,” LeMasters said. “So it brings hope to me that by raising money with this Side-Out Foundation and their Dig Pink organization that someone else in a position like me, their mother, grandmother, sister, whatnot, can find the right treatment that will give them more time with their loved one.”


She said it was important to her that the money raised would be used for research because her mother was administered a treatment that didn’t work for her body and caused certain organs to fail. All of the money raised for the Side-Out Foundation goes to stage 4 breast cancer research, which is the most underfunded and most critical stage, according to LeMasters. 


“It’s kind of crazy that this area is so underfunded when it’s the most critical,” LeMasters said. “This organization and this research is so important to me because they tailor their foundation toward treatments, toward researching newer or improving on older treatments that [are] used for stage 4 breast cancer patients, or that is given or administered to these patients so that they can find the right treatment for each patient specifically.” 


She said while she thinks the team was motivated to raise money before her specific experience, a lot of the girls have been by her side ever since she lost her mom.


“We choose this weekend in October as our Dig Pink week, they make it extra special,” LeMasters said. “They just know how closely I hold this organization and this area of research … to my heart.” 


Head Coach Kendall Paulus said while the team has had a Dig Pink event for many years, LeMasters had to miss about half of the season freshman year due to her mother’s diagnosis, making this a time of year the team remembers. 


“It’s something that’s changed her life and we want to be able to do as much as we can. A lot of us have had someone that’s been affected by breast cancer, but Ellen’s story is very near and dear to our hearts and something that we want to get behind for her and her family,” Paulus said. 


According to Paulus, the team was able to tie the fundraiser into the game because it was a home game. 


“We encourage everyone to wear pink over the weekend. We don’t get to interact with the crowd a ton by any means, so for us it’s more of an in-house experience where we talk about Ellen’s story,” Paulus said. “The idea of playing for something bigger than us makes it more special.” 


Annie Ellis, a redshirt senior middle blocker and nursing major from Edwardsville said having someone on the team who has such a connection to the cause adds an extra push of meaning.


“Obviously we play for loved ones, we honor them in memory, but also we do it for Ellen as well now. It just makes it even that more special of a game,” Ellis said.  


LeMasters said she hopes the tradition continues after she graduates. 


“I just hope that the team and SIUE and the volleyball program as a whole, they just continue to raise money and raise awareness and raise more hope that others … or other families who have been in a situation like mine, that they give them hope by raising this research that their loved one will find a treatment that is tailored to them and it will give them more time,” LeMasters said. “So I just hope that it’s never forgotten.”

To donate to Side-Out, visit the SIUE fundraising page.

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