By Steven Eggert
Following her sophomore season, guard Shereen Lightbourne was named team MVP with a lot of potential for the future. Then, the summer came, and all of her hard work dedicated to developing her skills had to stop.
Lightbourne suffered a left-knee injury on the court for the second time since her junior year of high school. The diagnosis was the same as before; a tear of her left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). As a result, she had to miss the 2011-12 season.
She recovered the following summer, practiced at full strength once again, showed signs of progress and then suffered the same injury to her right ACL just before the start of the 2012-13 season.
Now a graduate student with another year of eligibility because she redshirted, Lightbourne wants to make up for lost time.
“It was definitely frustrating,” she said. “I worked so hard, developed my game and took it to the next level, and then I got hurt before my junior year. Then, I got hurt again senior year. I just want to end on a good note.”
The Nov. 8 loss to Lafayette marked her first taste of game action since March 3, 2011. In the two years, six months and five days in between games, she has learned a lot about herself and what it takes to come back from injury.
“Watching from the sidelines, I learned a lot about myself emotionally, mentally, physically,” Lightbourne said. “You learn a lot about the game of basketball. I feel like I have matured as a person both on and off the court. I use these injuries and find a positive. It was definitely frustrating, but it made me stronger.”
A study conducted by The American Journal of Sports Medicine found that women are twice as likely to suffer knee injuries that require surgery than men. Knowing this, Head Coach Lynn Milligan does whatever she can to prevent knee injuries on her team.
“You want to learn as much as you can about them,” Milligan said. “Everything we do in the weight room, with our pre-game and pre-practice warm-ups, gears toward ACL prevention. How we land, how we jump, how we pivot, it’s a focal point for us coaches.”
Lightbourne had to struggle to stay healthy because of her physical attributes.
“I have very flat feet,” Lightbourne said “My hip-to-knee ratio is a little off, so it messes up my ankles and balance, but a lot of girls tear their ACLs.”
The rehab she had to go through was overwhelming at times.
“Rehab was very tedious, but what kept me going was just the goal that eventually, one day, God willing, I will play again, and here I am after two times in a row.”
To prepare for the season, Lightbourne has been practicing every day since September, and Milligan hasn’t done anything to limit Lightbourne when she’s on the court.
“When Shereen’s between the lines, I have to assume that she’s 100% because that’s what her teammates have to assume,” Milligan said. “She can’t take it easy because as soon as you’re tentative or cautious on the court, that’s when you get hurt. She does a lot before and after practice to take care of her body and she’s been doing a really good job of that.”
Lightbourne admits that she may not fully be in game shape, but has done whatever she needs to do to make it an easier adjustment to playing basketball again. “I’m still working on what I’m doing during practice,” she said. “I try to jump around, do some jogs, sprints, and sometimes I’ll go on the exercise bike. I’m really trying to find what works best for me. I have these kneepads; they are definitely imperative and important to wear, so I’m trying to find my regimen.”
One challenge of playing this season will not only be getting adjusted to her body, but will be getting familiar with the roster. Of all 14 players on the team, Lightbourne has only played with senior guards MyNeshia McKenzie and Alicia Hall.
In the first two games of the season, Lightbourne played seven minutes and had a foul and a steal. Nov. 14 she will play in her first home game since February 2011 when the Broncs host LIU Brooklyn.
Though many of her teammates haven’t played with her, everyone admires what she has done to get back in the game.
“They respect the work that she put in and how much she loves the game,” Milligan said. “If she had come to me last year and said, ‘Coach, this is my third one, I don’t think I can do this again,’ I would’ve been fine. It’s tough to go through once, but three times? I think it’s a good indication of how Shereen feels about this program, that she wants to help us win.”