RIMERSBURG, Pa. (EYT/D9) — For two years, Maggie Minick knew she had a time bomb ticking away in her left knee.
(Action Photos by Shelly Atzeni)
As a sophomore, she partially tore the ACL in that knee, but decided against surgery. Instead, she braced it up, gritted her teeth and prayed every time she stepped out onto the basketball court that it wouldn’t give way.
That the bomb wouldn’t go off.
But over the summer, just before her senior year at Union High School, her biggest fear became a reality.
Her ACL gave out.
“I was at AAU practice, and I went to juke someone out and it just popped,” Minick said. “I went to the surgeon and they did an MRI and they said it was completely torn.”
Minick was devastated.
She was on the cusp of big things for the Union girls basketball team this season. A senior surrounded by teammates she had played with since they could barely dribble, she longed to be out on the court with them, gunning for a District 9 title.
Instead, her season was over long before it had even started.
“I was the worst feeling in the world,” Minick said. “I cried. All these girls, we’ve played together since we were in kindergarten. We’re best friends on and off the court, so it was really hard not being able to play my senior year with them.”
But something unexpected has happened since she went under the knife six months to the day — Aug. 11, 2021.
Minick pushed herself in physical therapy from the first day. She worked hard to rehab that knee.
It got stronger and stronger.
Then on Feb. 1, Minick received some news that briefly took her breath away: she was cleared for non-contact.
That allowed her to suit up for games and participate in a limited fashion in practice.
With the season winding down and precious few games remaining, Minick has hope again that she can get out on the court with her friends and teammates — at least one more time.
“I kind of had this thought all along that I was going to work my butt off so I can play again,” Minick said. “Feb. 2 was the first time I could warm up with the team against Brockway. It just felt so good being in uniform. I was so excited. It was the smallest thing, really, but it was so huge for me to be on that court in uniform with my team, even if it was just warming up.”
Minick, however, is a realist. She knows the likelihood that she will be fully cleared before the end of the season is slim.
Then again, even getting to this point was a pipe dream just six months ago.
Her teammates, though, intend to give her every opportunity to return. They can do that by winning and extending the season as long as they can.
They want to win for the team, sure, but also for Minick.
“That’s just so much motivation for the girls,” said Union coach Ally Kepple. “They want to win for her. They want to keep our season going for her.”
Through all the adversity, the sadness and frustration, Minick hasn’t lost her infectious smile that beams beneath her now-signature white-rimmed glasses.
Even as crestfallen as she was, Minick was determined to be a part of the team.
She’s been at every game, sitting on the bench, pointing out things to her teammates and encouraging them every step of the way.
“Maggie has been their biggest supporter, their biggest cheerleader,” Kepple said. “That was the best thing for her this season. She loves basketball and she knows the game so well. I told her at the beginning of the year, ‘You’re like an assistant coach here. We want your input.’ She wants to be on the bench with us.”
Minick said she couldn’t be pried away from her teammates’ side. While some players who have suffered a season-ending injury find it too emotionally difficult to be with the team every day, Minick was the opposite.
“I love basketball so much, I had to be a part of it,” she said. “Being told you can’t play your senior year is probably the worst news you can get, but I knew I had to be a part of this team.”
Minick is still working hard in physical therapy to get back on the court.
She had to overcome a strange side effect of her surgery — a nodule below her knee that formed where a screw held her surgically repaired ACL in place. Eventually, it went away, but for a time it was cause for concern.
Back at practice now, Minick has shaken off some of the rust that built up over six months away from the game. She admits she is still frustrated at times that she cannot fully participate because of her fragile knee.
“No one is allowed to be near her,” Kepple said. “She lobbies to do certain drills, and I tell her she can’t. When I tell her she can do one, she gets very excited.”
Minick has no appointment scheduled with her surgeon to get fully cleared, but said she can schedule one if and when she feels she is ready.
She’s not quite there.
She hopes to be soon.
It’s even more important for Minick to get back on the court — even for just a minute — because this is the end of her basketball career. She will enlist in the Air Force once she graduates from Union this spring.
If she does find her way into a game, Minick is unsure how she will react.
“I’d probably tear up on the court,” she said. “That would mean a lot because basketball has been such a huge part of my life. I think it would be just an amazing feeling.”