Skip to Main Content

UNF volleyball star overcomes illness and injury

Mahalia White is a competitor.
Mahalia White smiling“I’m competitive in all aspects of life,” says White.
The UNF graduate student and volleyball standout persevered through a cancer diagnosis in late 2017 and an ACL injury in 2021 to find her way back to the court and the classroom.
Today, the Canoga Park, California, native is flourishing on the First Coast as a member of UNF’s volleyball team after a successful career at the University of California, Davis. The six feet tall outside hitter currently leads the team in kills (276) and recently earned ASUN Player of the Week honors on Oct. 24. Not bad for her first season wearing navy and gray.
Discovering volleyball
Growing up in Los Angeles, White cites Kobe Bryant and Serena Williams as her sports heroes. While she was always involved in sports during her early years, she received her introduction to volleyball during her freshman year of high school after the athletic director asked her to try out for the team due to her height. According to her, “It was love at first spike.” She made the team and joined varsity by the end of the season. Her successful high school career included many achievements as she became a two-time All-Los Angeles City Section and all-area honoree.
Cancer diagnosis and ACL injury
As a freshman at UC Davis in 2017, White thrived on the court earning Best West Conference Freshman of the Week honors six times and she eventually earned a starting spot on the team. Throughout the season, she began experiencing night sweats and lingering back pain that seemed to get worse. She decided to fight her way through it but decided to get an MRI after the season. One day after her 19th birthday, she received her MRI results and the diagnosis was cancer. A short time later the cancer was identified as stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“Just hearing the word “cancer”, I was taken aback,” said White. “I did not expect that to be the case out of all the things that could have been possible.”
She recalls calling her mother but was too emotional to speak, so her doctor gave her mother the news. White credits her mother, family and the UC Davis community for their unwavering support through five rounds of treatment. While she says there were tough moments, she was always able to lean on her mother who also overcame her own battle with cancer.
“I had the most support I think I could have possibly ever got,” said White. “There was no point in time where I felt like I was battling it alone.”
She missed the 2018 season before returning for a stellar 2019 season. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 season was suspended. She focused on her studies and earned her bachelor’s degree in communication. Looking to return to form in 2021, White suffered an ACL tear in her left knee during a preseason practice. She bounced back in time to compete during the beach volleyball season. 
Mahalia White on the volleyball court diving for a ballStarting a new chapter at UNF
Seeking a new challenge and a master’s program of interest, White entered the transfer portal in 2022. After conversations with coach Kristen Wright, head coach of UNF volleyball, and visiting the campus, White says she knew UNF would be a good fit. While continuing to excel on the court, she’s also loving her courses as she works toward earning a master’s degree in communication management.
“When I came on my visit, it was the best experience I’ve ever felt,” said White. “I just love my experience here so far and I love how much our team has grown over the past few months. We’re on the up and up, and it’s so exciting.”