Blue discs line the basketball floor of Rhodes Arena at the University of Akron.
A few feet over lies a flat ladder.
A young woman arrives steeped in sweat. She sits for a few moments and then she’s at it.
In and out of the cones. She moves vertically. Then side to side. To the right. To the left. Next comes the ladder. She runs through aggressively albeit with a limp that is ever so slight, the only aftereffect from the surgery on her right anterior cruciate ligament.
Such are the mornings of UA center Rachel Tecca. They begin when she gets up at 5:45 a.m. She hits the weight room and then it’s therapy with Zips assistant trainer Bobi Herold before going to work at her internship with AFLAC.
Why does she do it?
Ask Tecca, an Archbishop Hoban graduate, what the toughest aspect of her rehab is and she replies quickly.
“Probably just sticking with it every day,” she said. “At the beginning, it’s really repetitive, the same exercises every day so you have to keep yourself motivated and just keep working hard every day getting to where you want to be.”
She still remembers the initial reaction to the injury, which occurred during the Zips’ game against Duquesne on Dec. 14 prior to the start of UA’s Mid-American Conference schedule.
“I screamed pretty loud, but all I could think about is looking for my dad,” she said. “I knew something bad happened immediately.”
Tecca was averaging 17 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and the Zips were looking forward to a successful season with a realistic chance at contending for a conference title. Tecca’s injury threw the future into doubt.
It forced coach Jodi Kest to find a way to make up those points and rebounds.
She moved sophomore Sina King, normally the team’s starting power forward, to the center position. King delivered marvelously, averaging 12.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Then sophomore Carly Young stepped up.
“Once we figured out the changes we needed to make and the personnel we needed to move around it helped,” Kest said. “We needed Carly to step up and we needed Carly to be aggressive [rebounding]. It really helped Carly out. Her confidence level grew.”
But Tecca stepped up as well.
“Sometimes when kids get injured, they get isolated. That’s never been the case with Rachel. She always came to practice,” Kest said. “She was always in the weight room with the team. She was very encouraging.”
It wasn’t easy for Tecca.
“It’s heartbreaking because you really want to be out there helping your team,” she said. “It’s disheartening. You just have to know in your heart that they need you on the bench cheering as well, so you’re going to have to be happy and motivate them.”
Strange though it is, the injury might have helped the team and Tecca knows it. When she returns, she’ll have experienced teammates who have played their fair share of close games.
Until she can come back at full strength, which she and Herold said will be August, she will be working through the tedium to return to the court — less than a year after the injury. Oddly enough, if there was an opportune time for such an injury, it was when Tecca was hurt.
More importantly, Herold said, is that she put in the necessary work before her surgery and the effort after to ensure she will return.
“Technology is on our side now. Surgeons have a lot more techniques,” she said. “We have a lot more tools, so we definitely have technology on our side. The athletes are coming back better, stronger.”
The rest depends on whether Tecca can put the puzzle to recovery together and take her rehab and translate it to the court.
Should that happen, she’ll go into the season with one trophy already, wearing on her knee a brace weighing less than a pound that’s decorated with butterfly stickers.
“It’s really light and it’s cute, so I enjoy it,” she said with a smile.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at https://ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.