There is, at first, the unexpected, exploding pain. Mentally, red sirens blare. The pain gradually recedes and, at times, reemerges as recovery takes center stage. But above all, there is hope and optimism that fuels healing.
This is the journey of four BYU women’s basketball players’ experience as all four have been sidelined with season-ending ACL — anterior cruciate ligament — tears in their knees. However, each player has learned a lot from the sidelines.
Stephanie Rovetti was the first one to be injured. It happened right before BYU’s first exhibition game against Chadron State on Nov. 1. Last season, she averaged 7.5 minutes and 2.4 points throughout the season. Despite the injury, Rovetti has been able to learn a lot about basketball without playing.
“I kind of try to look at it like a 10-month preparation for next season to watch and learn, get ready for next season,” Rovetti said. “I got more of an understanding of every position on the floor, which I think is very beneficial for a point guard to know. … You really get to know how your teammates play, what their weaknesses are, what their quirks are.”
Lexi Eaton was one of the team’s leading scorers before her injury during the game against Utah State. She averaged 15.6 points in her eight games played before the injury. As a starter, Eaton did not spend much time on the bench prior to being injured, but her time sitting out has been valuable to her basketball skills, aside from actual play on the court.
“I kind of had to figure out my role because I’ve never had to sit on the bench my whole life,” Eaton said. “(I took on) leadership and kind of put in my two cents to help the girls individually that I could see on the sideline that they couldn’t. … I really spent a lot of time working on my mental part of the game.”
Kylie Maeda was able to play for most of the season until the Cougars played Loyola Maryland University on the road, their second-to-last game of the regular season. She hit two shots from beyond the arc in that game, which tied her career-high six points in a game. Her road to recovery will be built through her optimism.
“I’ve learned to be more optimistic,” Maeda said. “You just have to keep your spirits up and know that soon you’ll be back playing again.”
One of BYU’s redshirt freshmen, Micaelee Orton, also tore her ACL recently, along with a few other tears in her leg. Her injury happened a few weeks before the end of the season. It is comforting to these injured athletes that they can lean on each other and help each other out.
“Especially with our team right now, we have four people who have knee injuries,” Rovetti said. “To have three other people who know what your body is going through at the time and being able to relate and talk about it helps a lot. We kind of joke about it. We have our own little ‘Knee Club.'”
And, they have the example of recent graduate Haley Steed, who tore her ACL three times. She was able to come back from those injuries to become BYU’s all-time assists leader.
“(Steed) survived and came back, and I think she is an example that the other girls will survive,” said Carolyn Billings, the director of athletic trainers. “When they have major injuries like that, it’s devastating. All of their major goals go out the window. … (Steed’s) really good at reaching out and talking to the girls because she can relate.”
The injured players are not on their own. Along with Steed, they are able to turn to Billings, who has helped countless injured athletes in the healing process. After learning the official diagnosis, Billings is able to help the athletes make goals to lead them on the road to recovery.
“I reassure them that they’re going to survive,” Billings said. “I usually tell them that they will probably never know why that happened. … They didn’t do anything wrong. They’re going to recover.”