There are three letters that are guaranteed to strike fear in every player and coach: A.C.L. I have a lengthy history with that cursed ligament. The very shortest history goes like this:
- 2006: Tear ACL first game of junior season (in high school).
- 2007: The dissolvable screw they used in the first surgery explodes all in my knee. I didn’t know what it was so I kept playing. All those pieces floating around shredded my ACL.
- May 2008: Decide to go to college at Hendrix (NCAA D3 in Conway, AR) knowing that I can’t play my freshman year.
- October 2009: 6th day of practice my sophomore year. Non-contact drill. There it goes again. It takes two surgeries to fix this one.
- February 2012: After lots of begging, I convince the important people that I can play despite not playing a single game thus far in my collegiate career.
- May 2012: I graduate from Hendrix College.
That totals six surgeries on my left knee (including some scopes in there). Now to set the record straight, tearing my ACL has been a huge blessing personally and professionally. I’m not complaining; I just have to give you the anecdote before you can get the title. When I had my ACL fixed for the second time, my doctor said that I should strongly consider hanging it up. He said, “You’ll blow it again.” I told him I was playing basketball in college and that was the end of that conversation. When I started playing open gym my sophomore year, my family said, “Be careful. You’ll blow it again.” That’s ok. Just let me sleep while I GameReady and stim all day, everyday. They were right. I blew it…literally. After the third time, every person told me to stop playing. My athletic trainer told me it would never work but that she would help me try for as long as I could tolerate it. At the end of the day, she was right. It didn’t work. I blew it. I blew my collegiate career. I’ll never be a runner. Heck, some days I wake up and wonder if I can be a walker, or if I need a walker.
Fast forward about ten months. The season is nearly over. I am the graduate assistant coach at UWW. And we keep winning. I keep watching film. I’d like to think that by this point, the coaching staff had started to trust my breakdowns. After all, I got to put in the other team’s plays with our scout team. I got to clip the film to show our team. I was figuring this out. The ball takes some weird bounces (we say thank you to Alex) and we hit our stride. It’s championship weekend, hosted by Hope College. We play Amherst in the first game. I’d give you the play by play, knowing that you’d actually appreciate it, but that’s not the point. We hit a three pointer at the buzzer to go to overtime (after being down 11 with 3:00 left) then the same player hits a runner just inside the elbow to send us to the national championship. Oh yeah, those plays ended up #1 on SportsCenter. Mary’s two shots beat Victor Oladipo and LeBron James. You can watch the play here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcB_vtMewLs.
We stayed at the gym to watch the second game between Williams and DePauw. DePauw won (making them 33-0). We sent the girls back to the hotel and went to grab a bite to eat. Then, the work began. Throughout the course of the national tournament, our staff had decided to only prep one game at a time. We would only prep the Friday night game and then have about 24 hours to prep the second game, because in D3, we play back to back. I was not necessarily a proponent of this system, but I understood that prepping for two additional teams, both of whom we might not even play if we lost, would take away valuable time from the guaranteed opponent. This had served us well so far.
Coach gave me the DePauw films and left me in the film room. I didn’t see another soul or the back of my eyelids for the remainder of the night. I poured over that film. I didn’t stop. I wouldn’t stop. It was the national championship. “Don’t blow it. Don’t blow it. You’ll blow it.” Around 6:00 the next morning, I headed down to the breakfast room with my laptop. I started chugging chocolate milk and kept watching film until about 10:00a. Coach came down and asked me what I had and if I was ready to put it in at shootaround. I told her what I had. We went up to the film room to watch a little bit together. We disagreed. “Don’t blow it. You’re going to blow it.” Shootaround. Game day. The entire national committee is watching. I have 24 college girls trying to understand this scout that I knew I couldn’t blow. Coach asked about the handoff play. What handoff play? “You know,” she said, “the one they run all the time.” ________ (insert choice words here). No Coach. Can’t say that I do. So Coach puts it in. You blew it.
Tip off. Here we go. They didn’t guard screens like I said. They didn’t play defense like I said. They didn’t run any of the plays I had found. The kid I thought was one of their lesser threats went off. _______. I blew it. Final score: DePauw 69, Whitewater 51. Yep. I most definitely blew it. I apologized to Coach. She said it wasn’t my fault. DePauw was the better team. We just couldn’t get it together that night.
Maybe what she said was true. In fact, I’m quite sure that DePauw was the better team. We did struggle. But I spent all night watching film. I put in the scout for the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME. I am 23 years old. I am the graduate assistant coach for the #2 team in the nation and I blew it. I see my mementos from that weekend every single day and I want to throw up. I wear my ring everyday to remember it. I screwed up.
When we try to do things on our own, we will blow it. I guarantee it. When I try to do things on my own, I blow it. Every. Single. Time. Don’t kid yourself. Human beings don’t reach their pinnacle on their own. No one reaches her “potential” (whether you like the word or not) on her own. People who are the best at what they do are the best because of other people. It isn’t by their doing. No one wins a national championship by herself. And if no one can win a national championship by herself, then no one can lose a national championship by herself either. And if you can’t win or lose a national championship by yourself, then you can’t do anything by yourself. So let’s not go on our own. Let’s go together. Take the advice of people around us. Talk to our mentors. Develop our network. Grow our game. Let’s go farther because we go together.