Del Oro grads put injury woes behind them

Campus Canvass
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Correspondent
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Courtney Nolen and Kaitlin Lewis have much in common besides their high school alma mater. The Del Oro graduates both play forward for their respective college basketball teams – Nolen at Eastern Washington, Lewis at William Jessup in Rocklin. Both have missed significant playing time at various points in their careers after repeatedly suffering career-threatening injuries. And both have overcome their respective injuries to thrive in reserve roles this season. Nolen missed four games last season after suffering a concussion on the court. The concussion was the third of her career. Though not a contact sport, basketball can be a bit rough at times – especially in the low post where Nolen typically plays. However, the 6-foot-1 sophomore has not let fear of another head injury get the best of her on the court. “When you come back from a certain type of injury, you’re always more aware of the part that you injured,” Nolen said. “It makes you hesitant for a little while, but it doesn’t stop you from getting back into the flow of things.” Eagles coach Wendy Schuller said Nolen is no longer as tentative as she was when she first returned to the court after her injury. “She’s one of the best players we have on our team as far as taking a charge, and that’s what got her a concussion in the first place,” Schuller said. “She takes a charge the same now as she did before. “She’s also attacking the basket a lot more and is a more aggressive rebounder,” the coach added. Unlike Nolen, Lewis’ injuries have been in her legs. The 5-8 junior missed all of her freshman season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee in 2008. Lewis then missed all of her sophomore season after tearing her left ACL. A devout Christian, Lewis questioned whether she should continue playing after her first ACL injury. “Most of the time, if you tear your ACL the first time, you tear the same ACL,” she said. “I said, ‘God, if I tear this knee again, I’ll understand that you don’t want me to play basketball anymore.’ When I tore the other knee, I knew it was OK to continue playing because it wasn’t the same knee. “Both knees are fixed now because I’ve gone through this process,” Lewis added. “I don’t hyperextend either one when I straighten them, and that’s what was causing the problem.” Another common trait Nolen and Lewis share is that both are defense-first players who have shone in limited playing time. Nolen, who averages 13.7 minutes a game, is tied for fourth among Eastern Washington’s players in blocks with 15 and also has 16 steals. “She’s got great length – she has very long arms — and good athleticism, all of which helps with her shot blocking,” Schuller said. “But she’s also really smart. Not everybody who turns to their left uses their left hand to block a shot — many would rather use their right hand, which means they have to reach across their bodies and makes them more prone to fouling. But she has a very good basketball IQ as far as knowing where shots are going to come from.” Lewis, who averages eight minutes per contest, isn’t as much of a shot blocker, but her rebounding ability off the defensive glass has served William Jessup well. “She’s one of those girls who blocks out on every shot,” Warriors coach Guin Boggs said. “She’s in the hunt for every ball that comes off the backboard because she blocks out so well.” Nolen and Lewis have one other thing in common – both could help teams that struggled during the regular season do big things in the postseason. Eastern Washington (12-15, 8-6 Big Sky Conference) started the season 1-6 and has had two losing streaks of five games or more. William Jessup (13-17, 9-3 California Pacific Conference), meanwhile, lost 11 straight to start the season and 14 of its first 15. EWU, however, can reach the NCAA Division I tournament if it wins next week’s Big Sky tourney. WJU advanced to next week’s NAIA Division II tournament by winning the California Pacific tourney earlier this week. Nolen plans to major in communications starting next fall and eventually hopes to work for non-profits fighting breast cancer, poverty and other problems in Africa. Lewis hopes to make a difference on the home front as a middle school teacher. Before they begin mapping out career plans, however, they’ve got some basketball left to play — and given their history of injuries, they plan to cherish the opportunity. “I missed basketball, but while I was gone I could see the value in being able to walk and run,” Lewis said. “I have a talent to play this sport, and it’s a God-given gift. It’s not something I should take for granted every day.”