Ferguson now holds court on the sideline

Senior Shannon Ferguson, middle, now helps Rider from the bench as a student-assistant coach after two herniated discs cut her collegiate career short.

By Josh Veltrie

veltrie@theridernews.com

Because of two herniated discs in her back, Ferguson, a double major in education and communication,  is on the sideline during practices and games for her final year at Rider. As a student-assistant coach, she helps head coach Lynn Milligan with a team that doesn’t have a senior on the roster and has struggled early in the season.
“Every time Shannon has gotten knocked down she’s bounced right back up,” Milligan said. “She is just a very positive person and is a good influence on the rest of the team, especially the younger players.”
Ferguson, who is from Fort Washington, Pa., was a standout performer in basketball and volleyball in high school, but didn’t plan on playing basketball in college. According to the Upper Dublin graduate, she chose Rider in May of her senior year, right after her official visit.
“I was planning on going to the University of Scranton, a Division III school, where I could play volleyball, basketball or both if I wanted to,” Ferguson said. “I had never heard of Rider, but went up to visit with my dad. I took a tour and, at the end, I was offered a full scholarship. The opportunity was way too good to be turned down and I said ‘yes’ within a few days.”
The 5’10” forward started off her career as a Bronc with a successful freshman campaign, appearing in 29 games and starting 16 of them. Although she only averaged a little more than three points and rebounds per game, she shot over 50 percent from the field and brought energy and defense to the floor, according to Milligan.
“[Ferguson] was my first recruit at Rider and only freshman in her class, and she saw a lot of playing time in her first year and she relished that opportunity,” Milligan said. “She is a competitor.”
It was toward the beginning of Ferguson’s sophomore year that she began to feel discomfort in her back. The pain became so unbearable that she got an MRI. The test results showed two herniated discs in her back, and Ferguson received two epidurals to try and numb the pain enough so she could finish the season. After attempting to play in two games, she decided to take a medical redshirt because the pain was too severe, according to Ferguson.
In the spring of her sophomore year, she had surgery on the lower disc in hopes that it would help her be able to compete the following season.
“The herniated discs were causing me to have constant pain down my leg, causing discomfort in everyday things like sitting in class, driving and standing for too long,” Ferguson said. “The surgery helped that pain go away but I was still having muscular pain, burning in my legs and tightness that was causing me pain and discomfort when I tried to play again.”
After struggling through rehab and the pre-season, Ferguson tried playing in the beginning of her second sophomore year — because of the redshirt she still had three years of eligibility left to play — but after five games she decided to shut it down for the rest of the season.
After rehabbing the following summer in a final attempt to be able to play during her senior year of college — even though she would be considered a junior for basketball — Ferguson realized that the decision to play wasn’t in her hands.
“The decision to stop playing altogether was an extremely difficult one,” she said. “Even after sitting out most of last season I was still determined to get back on the court for my senior year, even though my mom and trainer really didn’t think it was a good idea.”
It was Milligan’s idea to have Ferguson stay on the squad as a student assistant coach because she knew the senior wanted to help improve the program any way she could.
“In practice she does a great job helping [associate head coach Pam] Durkin with the low-post players and charting our players,” Milligan said.
Ferguson has learned a lot through her up-and-down experience at Rider.
“It gave me a whole new perspective on the game and the opportunity I had been given,” Ferguson said. “I wouldn’t trade any of it. I learned a lot in the process and this year will be a great experience.”

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