Despite injuries, Muskies focused on season goals
Athletics - posted on 1/10/2005
From left, Connie Thousand, Karli NicholsApril Arvan still has a hard time believing it. But each time she looks down the bench of the Lakeland College women’s basketball team this season, there sits the reminders of what’s becoming a very unusual season.
and Kristi Thill support their teammates
from the bench during a recent game
Three key members of the team – senior point guard Kristi Thill, sophomore power forward Jenna Boehm and junior sixth man Connie Thousand – have all been sidelined with season-ending anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears in their knees. Senior guard Karli Nichols is nursing a concussion that has kept her on the sidelines since Dec. 11.
But despite the setbacks, this proud program is determined to accomplish its original goals, which include winning yet another Lake Michigan Conference championship and returning to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
“Obviously it’s frustrating, and kind of scary, but it’s also an opportunity,” Thill said. “We need to take it as an opportunity to make something great out of something that doesn’t look so good.
“Regardless of who goes down, we still think we’re the team to beat. That’s the program we’ve built. We’ll keep that target on our back. It comes with its pressure and expectations, but that’s where we want to be.”
The problems started in the season opener against UW-Superior on Nov. 19, when Boehm, a sophomore who earned all-conference and all-rookie team honors as a freshman, suffered the second ACL tear of her career.
Just over two weeks later, Thousand tore her ACL (also the second of her career) in the Muskies LMC opener against Marian on Dec. 4.
“For me it was an ‘Are you kidding me?’ type of reaction,” said 11th-year Lakeland head coach April Arvan, who tore her own ACL during her playing days.
Just three days later on Dec. 7 at Concordia, Thill tore her ACL and Nichols suffered a concussion, which was re-aggravated on Dec. 11 against Edgewood. The final diagnosis on Thill didn’t come until Dec. 16.
“In my mind, I was preparing for it to be a sprain,” Arvan said. “Throughout her career, Kristi has been able to bounce back and be OK. She’s an ‘I’m fine’ person and I was feeding off that.”
It’s been a lot for the program to deal with, even a program that’s made four trips to the NCAA Tournament in the past six seasons and won six of the last seven LMC championships.
“I haven’t even witnessed it through other programs,” Arvan said. “After Kristi’s injury, we talked at our next practice about that fact that the perception will be that four of our top six are out with injuries. We like to focus on four of our top 16 being out with injuries. This is why we have this team.”
Beginning with a loss to Edgewood on Dec. 11 (which snapped Lakeland’s nearly two-year-old 19-game conference winning streak), the Muskies dropped four of five games before recent wins over Silver Lake and Concordia left them at 8-6, 3-1 in the LMC.
“It’s frustrating,” said senior center Renee Steinert, the preseason LMC Player of the Year. “We just go out there and play. We’ve had four games now with our ‘new’ team and we’re getting a handle on things, getting used to each other. New people have stepped up. Our role players have stepped up and are playing non-role player minutes.”
Thill was Lakeland’s starting point guard, averaging 31.5 minutes, 11.4 points and 4 rebounds. Nichols started six of Lakeland’s eight games, and was averaging 23 minutes and had 16 assists. Thousand, a transfer from Edgewood, averaged 21 minutes, 6.8 points and four rebounds.
The injuries have Steinert and classmate Sarah Langenhorst and freshman guard Brenda Paulson playing 37-38 minutes a game instead of the 30 that Arvan prefers.
“That doesn’t help us in the second half of games,” Arvan said. “Renee has to score more. Sarah has to score more.”
Juniors Beth Porter and Heather Groh, sophomore Liz Ware and freshman Allison Komaromy have all traded spots in the starting lineup with Groh seeing a lot more playing time and Komaromy a much larger role.
“There are players whose roles have increased a year or two earlier than I would have expected,” Arvan said.
One thing is clear – the program’s always lofty team goals will not change.
“Winning the conference and returning to the NCAA Tournament – those are extremely solid,” Arvan said. “Our personnel has changed tremendously, but our drive has not. Our opponents still prepare to face a tough team on the floor, and they know they’re going up against a program with a lot of tradition.”
“The people playing want it as much as the people not playing,” Steinert said. “We have 13 players who are still healthy, and we’re still a good team. It is more of a challenge, but I think we can still do it.”
Boehm, Thill and Thousand will all have knee surgery in January. Boehm and Thousand will medical redshirt. Thill, a senior education major who needs to do her student teaching next fall semester, could medical redshirt, but will evaluate her options with Arvan at the end of the season.
In the meantime, Thill, Nichols, Thousand and Boehm haven’t missed a practice or game, and are still playing important, albeit different roles.
“Kristi and Karli are doing an awesome job from the bench,” Steinert said. “They’re still point guards and they’re helping our younger players even though they’re on the bench.”
Thill said, “We’re trying to keep the same leadership roles, helping the younger point guards, keeping people motivated, keeping it fun so we can take some of the pressure off them.”
Arvan noted that Nichols and Thill are both still team captains.
“They’re essential to their teammates still,” Arvan said. “I haven’t seen any of the four doing any ‘Woe is me.’ I commend our entire team and especially our four seniors for handling themselves so well. I’m taking notes from them on how to handle this situation.”
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