My sincere hope is that it was all just a false alarm.
When Ashlyn Huffman, the starting point guard for the Columbus North girls basketball team, dropped to the floor just before halftime during last Saturday night’s Class 4A regional final, you could feel the air get sucked out of the arena. When the final horn sounded and the Bull Dogs had held on for a four-point win against Evansville Central, the celebration didn’t feel like one at all.
It’s hard to get too fired up over a Pyrrhic victory.
The uncertainty of Huffman’s status made it impossible for North to fully enjoy the two regional triumphs — neither of which would have happened without its junior floor general.
“It’s kind of a bummer,” classmate Maliah Howard-Bass said after the regional final, “because the competition just gets harder, and so without one of our main people, it’s kind of a downer. It’s like, ‘Yay, we won,’ but it’s going to be two times, three times harder the next time than it was if she was here.”
Thankfully, we don’t know for sure yet if Huffman won’t be there for Saturday afternoon’s semistate matchup with Roncalli. A preliminary ACL tear test Saturday night was negative — not a guarantee that there actually is no tear, but certainly cause for hope. It’s likely that the Bull Dogs will know Tuesday whether they will have Huffman available for the rest of the postseason.
It’d be a shame if they don’t.
With four of the five top-ranked teams remaining, the Class 4A state tournament has played out almost perfectly thus far. The last two weekends of the season will feature strictly the best of the best — except maybe not really, if Columbus North isn’t at full strength.
North defeated semistate opponent Roncalli, 66-62, on Jan. 28, and it also beat Penn, one of its potential finals foes, in the finals of its holiday tournament Dec. 30. Topping either a second time without Huffman would be a tall order.
Injuries are a part of the game, and many an outstanding team has fallen short of a championship after losing a key player. But the show never feels complete when one of the main characters is missing.
All season long, Columbus North has been sending a message to the detractors who said the team couldn’t repeat last season’s success once Ali Patberg was gone. The Bull Dogs haven’t skipped a beat, and the addition of Huffman — a transfer from Franklin Central who has already bounced back from one ACL tear on that same knee — has been a huge reason for the sustained success.
Losing her would significantly increase the incline for the rest of North’s climb to the top.
I’m not usually in the business of paying compliments to athletes — not only do I figure it’s my job to be more or less impartial, but I’ve covered enough stuff by this point that I’m not as easily impressed as I once was. On Saturday night, I felt compelled to make an exception — Huffman had been incredible all day long, and she deserved to know that. So I told her so.
I did so hoping it won’t be the last time we get to see her play this season.
The last two weekends of this tournament could be about as good as high school girls basketball gets — but only if we get some good news about Huffman’s right knee.
Ryan O’Leary is the sports editor for The Republic. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.