Girls basketball: Victoria Gaines coming back from tough injury
By John O’Malley Post-Tribune correspondent November 5, 2012 12:13AM
Merrillville's Victoria Gaines goes through LaPorte's Taylor Thompson and Jaclyn Heath to the basket in the third quarter Friday night at Merrillville High School. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 6, 2012 6:17AM
An uneasy feeling overcame Amy Govert the second Merrillville’s Victoria Gaines went tumbling to the floor in a semifinal game at the Portage Sectional last February.
“When I saw it, the way she went down, I knew it wasn’t good,” the Pirates’ coach said. “She’s a pretty tough kid. I was hoping for the best, but obviously, it didn’t turn out that way.”
Then only a freshman, Gaines tore her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus, suffered a dislocated knee and compound fracture of her tibia, and severely strained her LCL and MCL in the third quarter of the Pirates’ only loss of the season — a 70-56 upset at the hands of Michigan City.
“I was just more concerned for her, because she has a bright future in front of her,” Govert said. “You don’t like to see kids have that serious of an injury, especially that young. She was only 14 when it happened. That was probably as bad of a knee injury that I’ve ever seen.”
At first, Gaines couldn’t believe her injury was so severe.
“I didn’t hear a pop or anything,” she said. “I really didn’t think it was that bad, but I knew something was definitely wrong. I felt like a baby because I couldn’t get up. I’ve never stayed on the (floor) that long. I usually get up in like three seconds. I felt pathetic. I felt like everyone and the game was waiting on me.
“When I tried to stand up, my knee buckled. I could hear the fans go quiet. I had to be carried off the court. I didn’t really think I tore my ACL. When they told me, I was like: ‘Oh, gosh.’”
Gaines had to wait for her MCL and LCL to heal, and the swelling to go down in her knee, before undergoing surgery.
Her surgeon was Chicago Bulls team physician, Dr. Brian Cole, who successfully repaired the damage on April 4 at Rush University Medical Center.
An arduous rehabilitation ensued and Gaines missed the entire AAU season.
“I was so ready for the AAU season and then I had the injury,” Gaines frowned. “It was just bad timing.”
Gaines was coming off an incredible freshman year, posting the kind of numbers most talented seniors only dream about. The 6-foot-1 phenom averaged 15.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 3.2 steals and 1.7 blocks per game, while shooting an eye-opening 65.7 percent.
She has offers from Purdue, Michigan State and Dayton and had made unofficial visits to Tennessee, Ohio State and Indiana, among others.
“I’m just so happy right now,” Gaines said. “It didn’t really seem like a long time to me, but I’m so happy to be back playing again.”
Cleared to play on Oct. 8, Gaines still has four weeks of physical therapy remaining.
“A lot of people really don’t know how hard it is to recover from a torn ACL,” she said. “You have to work hard every day, but it’s even more than that. Therapy taught me to be tough, strong and focused. Therapy changed my mindset and how hard I work. I know I’m going to take those things on the court with me — oh yeah.”
By her own admission, Gaines needs to work on strengthening her knee and quads, improving her range of motion and building her conditioning.
“I feel I’m about 75 percent in my conditioning right now,” she said. “My therapist is working hard with me on my endurance. By the time December hits, I should be in good shape.”
Dealing with the mental aspect of her injury is a little more complex — even for a player like Gaines, who has the skills to take over a game.
“Most of the time, it’s all mental in terms of recovery,” said Govert, who’s had approximately 15 athletes tear ACLs since she’s been at Merrillville.
“Every day she’s getting stronger physically. This week was like night and day from the first week. She’s running the floor, getting hit here, and there, and is more relaxed. Last week, she was very afraid and very timid. She didn’t want to get physical at all. We talked a little bit and I told her: ‘You’re fine.’
“Everyone is different. I don’t know what’s going through her mind. We’re just trying to keep her comfortable and make sure she knows she’s good to go. I think if you give her a month and a half, she’ll be 100 percent. Mentally, she still has that little bit of doubt in the back of her mind and we don’t want that doubt at all.”
A huge smile crossed Gaines’ face as she thought about being back playing the game she loves.
“I just want to work hard, have fun and play every game like it’s my last,” she said.