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Chris Westover knew something was wrong when Taylor Alcozer asked to come out of a game last spring.

Alcozer, then in sixth grade, never asks to come out. Ever.

“She asked to come out in the most highly instrumental point in the game. It was the fourth quarter, maybe five or six minutes to go,” said Westover, the coach of the sixth-grade girls’ basketball team at Willowside Middle School.

“I needed her to play against their best player.”

But Alcozer raised her hand and asked to come out.

“That’s not Taylor,” he said. “Taylor wants in in those moments. She never asks to come out.”

But her head hurt too much. She had double vision that was so bad she was fumbling the ball.

“It felt like my head was almost going to explode,” she said.

On and off for weeks Alcozer had complained of headaches and occasionally double vision. But then they would go away. Her parents, Anna and Anthony Alcozer, weren’t quite sure what to make of it. Were they migraines? Was it hormonal?

But when Taylor pulled herself from that game, they knew it was something bigger than they had previously thought. Their daughter is a nut for the game, shooting hoops alone in the driveway, playing on two teams. There is no way she would take herself out if something was not seriously amiss.

So the Alcozers took their eldest child to the hospital. After a couple of tests, she was put in an ambulance and sent to a specialist in Santa Clara who found an arachnoid cyst on her brain. The fluid buildup on the left side of her head was so intense her brain had shifted inside her skull.

The doctors wanted to try a few solutions, but one thing was clear: She had to stop playing basketball immediately.

“Out of everything that she had to go through, the only thing that upset her was not knowing if she would play basketball,” Anna Alcozer said. “That’s what brought her to tears.”

The doctors put Alcozer on a heavy dose of steroids. Seriously fatigued by the drugs, she started going to school only half of the day.

And even though she was barred from playing, she always made time to come to practice and show up to games to support her teammates.

When doctors determined the steroids weren’t working, they scheduled brain surgery for June.

“Ultimately, as a parent, you want to protect your kids and in this situation there was nothing I could do,” Anthony Alcozer said. “It was humbling.”

Surgeons performed a craniotomy. They opened her skull, poked holes in the cyst, drained the fluid and sewed her back up. Alcozer now has titanium plates in her head. She also has a 10-inch, horseshoe-shaped scar that is now barely noticeable under her dark brown pony tail.

Surgeons were over the moon with how well it had gone. And they were overwhelmed by Taylor’s recuperative powers, Anthony Alcozer said.

Doped up on morphine and feeling nauseated, Taylor Alcozer moved almost immediately to a lesser painkiller to hasten her exit from the hospital.

Anna Alcozer said in a lot of ways, the recovery period this summer felt like having a toddler again. There were lots of naps and planning things around Taylor’s energy level. In addition to the surgery, her body was still recovering from the high doses of steroids that had caused her to gain about 20 pounds.

But when she was allowed to shoot baskets on the driveway, things felt like they were looking up. And when she was allowed to run and jump, it was like seeing a light at the end of a dark tunnel.

“That’s how she processes everything,” Anna Alcozer said. “Things that I might have worried about — weight gain, missing out on end-of-the-year stuff … the thing that automatically brought tears was basketball.”

But the doctors said the surgery could not have gone better. It went so well, in fact, that Alcozer is not required to do the every-six-months scan they had originally planned. She’ll be monitored for any symptoms and that’s it.

What’s more? In late July she got the all-clear to play hoops again.

“It was everything,” Taylor said of actually getting to go to practice, to work her way back into shape, to work out both with her school and club teams.

Basketball, the thing that put the most fear in her heart going into surgery, is the thing that gave Taylor the motivation to recover, her dad said.

“Absolutely, 100 percent,” he said. “She was hellbent on making it back to Willowside, hellbent.”

And her team could not wait to have her back on the floor.

“She is my leader by example,” Westover said.

“She gives her all and she shows everybody the right way to do it. She works her butt off.”

On Tuesday, Taylor didn’t start in Willowside’s season opener against Brook Haven. She entered the game with about one minute to play in the first quarter.

Her impact was immediate.

She grabbed two steals on defense and finished the half with a left-handed drive to the bucket.

“I was super excited,” she said of suiting up for her first game. “I feel like because of what I’ve gone through I’ll play harder, because I don’t know if it could be my last game.”

For Anthony Alcozer, it was a swirl of emotions seeing his daughter out on the court, doing the thing that makes her the happiest.

“It was great. It was good to see her out there. It was good to see her smiling,” he said.

“I think we all grew from it. Ultimately, I feel like this is closure. She’s back out there. She’s happy.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.