With help, key play­ers re­bound from sea­son-end­ing in­juries

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Kather­ine Dunn

As Glenelg’s girls bas­ket­ball team played for a state cham­pi­onship in March, for­ward Ju­lia Wol­frey sat court­side in a wheel­chair feel­ing a bit sorry for her­self.

The day be­fore, she had surgery to re­pair the torn ACL in her right knee. When the game started, she could only think about how she was miss­ing what could be a once-in-a-life­time ex­pe­ri­ence.

“At first, it was re­ally over­whelm­ing to re­al­ize what was go­ing on, see­ing my team out there on the floor with­out me and my school in the stands,” Wol­frey said. “At first, I was re­ally up­set.

“As they kept play­ing, I thought I shouldn’t be think­ing like that; there’s noth­ing I can do to change this and I felt so proud of them. It was a re­ally good ex­pe­ri­ence, ac­tu­ally. For my­self, to just re­al­ize that bad things can hap­pen, but there comes a point where you can’t do any­thing about it ex­cept care about the other peo­ple. They were all Play­ers to watch, ex­panded polls, key num­bers

there sup­port­ing me and they had ded­i­cated the pre­vi­ous game to me and it wasn’t worth be­ing self­ish.”

In that mo­ment, Wol­frey knew she would be all right. She would cheer for her team­mates the rest of the game as they won the Class 3A state cham­pi­onship and she would ded­i­cate her­self to re­turn­ing as a se­nior and help­ing them get back to the state ti­tle game.

For Wol­frey and a hand­ful of the area’s other key play­ers com­ing back from in­jury this win­ter, there were mo­ments of dis­ap­point­ment and fear be­fore they re­al­ized they wanted to come back stronger than ever.

Old Mill cen­ter Re­becca Lee also tore an ACL late last sea­son. McDonogh guard Taleah Dixon tore one dur­ing Ama­teur Ath­letic Union bas­ket­ball in April. Manch­ester Val­ley guard Macken­zie DeWees tore the labrum and car­ti­lage in her right shoul­der dur­ing AAU sea­son.

All four play­ers will be crit­i­cal to their teams’ mak­ing play­off runs this sea­son, and all are back on the court.

Their coaches are tak­ing it a lit­tle easy on them, not let­ting them play en­tire scrim­mages, be­cause as Glenelg coach Chris Beil said of Wol­frey with a laugh, “I don’t want to ruin her be­fore the sea­son starts.”

Old Mill coach Rick Smith, like Beil, doesn’t want Lee, a 6-foot-1 Bal­ti­more Sun All-Metro post player, to overdo it. He needs her for the stretch run more than the early sea­son.

Last year, Lee was just as frus­trated as Wol­frey as she watched the un­de­feated Anne Arun­del County cham­pion Pa­tri­ots fall to North Point in the Class 4A East re­gion fi­nal. They won the reg­u­lar-sea­son meet­ing, in which Lee scored 29 points.

“This is my last year,” Lee said, “and I re­ally want to win states and I want to take my team that far so we can fin­ish with a bang. In 10th grade, we went to states and in 11th grade, I re­ally wanted to win but I tore my ACL. This year, it’s re­ally im­por­tant to come back and try to win.”

Lee would like to be back in the lineup full time with the No. 3 Pa­tri­ots right away, but she un­der­stands Smith want­ing to ease her back in.

“One of the things that’s hard­est for me is pa­tience,” Lee said. “I’m a per­son who wants things now, but I know with my knee if I don’t have pa­tience right now I might mess it up again.”

Still, Lee said, when she’s play­ing, she doesn’t think about the knee. De­vel­op­ing that men­tal strength can be as im­por­tant as the phys­i­cal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

Dixon played all of last sea­son, as the Ea­gles fin­ished sec­ond in the In­ter­scholas­tic Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion of Mary­land A Con­fer­ence. She tore her left ACL af­ter mak­ing a layup in April. She said she doesn’t think about the in­jury ei­ther, be­cause she knows she’ll be all right even if it hap­pens again.

“Through the whole process, you can’t get down on your­self. You’ve got to know you’ll be back from it,” the ju­nior All-Metro guard said.

“My sis­ter [Ebonee Dixon] tore her ACL at the same age and she’s play­ing at Wilm­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity now. I’m just fol­low­ing in her foot­steps, be­cause I saw that she can re­cover from it and she’s strong. I’m strong, too.”

DeWees, a two-time Car­roll County Player of the Year, dis­cov­ered she was stronger than she thought af­ter need­ing three plas­tic an­chors in­serted into her shoul­der to reat­tach the labrum to the bone. The ju­nior, clos­ing in on1,000 ca­reer points, had to learn how to shoot all over again.

She couldn’t get her arm to a 90-de­gree an­gle for about two months af­ter surgery, so she couldn’t work on the shoot­ing mo­tion un­til then. She couldn’t shoot a bas­ket­ball un­til four months af­ter the surgery May11.

“Ba­si­cally, I had to re­train my arm how to shoot again and get the me­chan­ics back down,” DeWees said, “so I couldn’t shoot un­til Oc­to­ber and I couldn’t lift my arm up for three months. When I was cleared [to play], I was re­ally ner­vous, but I think I’m 100 per­cent and as time goes on, I will be a bet­ter shooter and I’ll be stronger men­tally and phys­i­cally. I think this in­jury has helped me a whole lot.”

Heather DeWees, who coaches her daugh­ter at No. 11 Manch­ester Val­ley and in AAU ball, said one of the more help­ful things these days is that so many ath­letes have gone through the same re­cov­ery pro­cesses as these four play­ers.

“When I had my ACL done in high school, I was the only one,” the coach said. “Yas­min Lewis, who plays for Se­ton Ke- ough, had the same surgery as Macken­zie a year ear­lier and she’s run­ning up to her this sum­mer and say­ing, ‘Oh yeah, this is what hap­pens.’ So they have a net­work via tex­ting and the in­ter­net where they’re able to con­nect im­me­di­ately. The vol­ley­ball player Kerri Walsh [Jen­nings] had five [shoul­der surg­eries], so Macken­zie’s like, ‘If she had five of these and she’s still do­ing that, then I’m go­ing to be OK.’ You see that and you have hope and in­spi­ra­tion that 25 years ago might not have been there.”

Wol­frey said for­mer Glenelg play­ers Sam Heisig and Emily Russo, who also suf­fered torn ACLs, reached out to re­as­sure her.

“They both texted me and walked me through ev­ery­thing that was go­ing to hap­pen in the surgery and what comes after­ward. They just said I’ll get through it and that I’d come­back­stronger than be­fore.”

Af­ter the first few days of prac­tice, Wol­frey’s knee was sore, so she took a cou­ple of days off, but now she’s out­run­ning her team­mates in sprint drills the way she did be­fore. Just like Lee, Dixon and DeWees, she can’t wait to play a game and take on the added lead­er­ship role that will be ex­pected of her this win­ter.

Wol­frey has no doubt that she will be all right.

“In our scrim­mage, I just told my­self, ‘Don’t think about it,’ be­cause my phys­i­cal ther­a­pist said once you’re 100 per­cent back, the knee is just as good as it was be­fore.”

These play­ers might be even bet­ter.

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