When Columbus East plays host to Columbus North in girls basketball Wednesday night, the Olympians’ Mikala Lomax and Katie Ritenour and the Bull Dogs’ Hanna Ballard will be on the court.
That’s largely a testament to the trio’s dedicated rehab efforts since tearing their ACLs. Another East player, IPFW recruit Allyson Bunch, tore her ACL this summer and is awaiting clearance from her doctor. She could return as early as next week.
“The thing about ACL injuries is, when they rehab, it’s just hard to step back in playing because they can’t do anything for five or six months, and then to try to get in basketball shape is just so hard,” East coach Danny Brown said. “It just takes time.”
For Lomax, who was injured the fourth game of last season, it took nearly a full year. Ritenour, who returned two weeks ago, and Bunch suffered their injuries in June, playing summer basketball with the Olympians.
Ballard injured her left knee in May. She had torn the ACL in her right knee just before the beginning of her sophomore year.
“When it happened, I already knew ‘Oh, yep, that’s what it is,’” said Ballard, North’s lone senior. “It just takes a lot of hard work and dedication to get it back, especially with all the intense therapy and everything. You just have to stick to it if you want to get back in the game.”
Ballard takes a weights class at North. She can’t squat or power clean but does leg curls, leg extensions and leg press, and jumps with one leg.
Nathan Frasier at MVP (Maximum Velocity Performance) of Columbus is working with Ballard to help her regain strength and agility.
“First, you start with having to pull it,” Ballard said. “You have to get all your range of motion back and all that stuff until you can start working on your strengthening. Now, I’m still working on my strengthening. I’ve been released to play, but my knee still isn’t as strong as it used to be, so I’m still a little uneven.”
Ballard has played about half of most games for the Class 4A No. 2 Bull Dogs and played a season-high 25 minutes in last week’s win against Class 4A No. 5 Greenwood at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. She is averaging 6.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.6 steals a game.
“She’s very important to the team,” North coach Pat McKee said.
“The stability she brings, the knowledge she brings are all key assets. She helps us play better because she brings good knowledge and awareness, and she’s versatile. She can play multiple positions and do them all with very few mistakes.
“She’s a great kid, and I think she’s to be admired not only coming back once, but twice from this injury,” he said. “The dedication that she showed through the rehab process both times was remarkable, and we’re blessed that she’s part of our program.”
East’s lone senior, Lomax, has been rehabbing with Frasier at MVP.
“We did a lot of ankle strengthening and balance because the leg is a lot weaker,” Lomax said. “You have to get your balance back and the strength in the hamstring and the quad. They equally have to be strengthened, so we worked on the hamstring especially, and we did a lot of Vertimax and just different stretches and drills and stuff like that.”
Lomax leads the Olympians with 12.9 points and 8.3 rebounds a game.
“Rehab every day was tough, and then you have to ice every day,” Lomax said. “It’s tedious work, but you have to do it. Coming back in the summer was a lot easier since I could work on things and get in the flow of the game and then finally start strong for the season.”
Juniors Ritenour and Bunch have done most of their rehab at home or at the school. Ritenour visited Dr. Donald Shelbourne in Indianapolis once every two weeks for the two months after her surgery and once a month since then.
Ritenour does a lot of leg presses and rides a stationary bike. She has played in the five of East’s past eight games and is averaging 3.2 points.
“The first game was really hard, but it got easier,” Ritenour said. “The second game and the third game were a lot easier. It’s good to be back.”
Bunch, who led East with 20.3 points and 8.7 rebounds last season, goes back to doctor on Tuesday and is hoping to be cleared then. She will need to get six practices in before playing and could see action as early as the Rumble on the River Shootout Dec. 28-29 at Southwestern (Hanover).
“I’m really excited,” Bunch said. “Coach said he doesn’t want to throw me to the wolves my first game back, so to get a couple minutes in will be good before we play Seymour on (Jan.) 3rd.”
The ACL tear was the third for Bunch. She tore her left ACL in sixth grade and her right ACL in eighth grade. This time, she tore the right one again.
Dr. Gregory Fox at Bloomington Bone and Joint Clinic has been working with Bunch. He explained to her that her quads were much stronger than her hamstrings, so they’ve been working on improving the strength of her hamstrings.
Bunch has been riding a stationary bike and doing leg presses, leg curls, leg extensions and balancing. She’s been attending games and practices while waiting for clearance to play.
“It’s awful,” Bunch said. “You want to be out there playing and helping and doing everything I can, but you just have to be there mentally for them since you can’t be there physically.”
“When you’re not completely at full strength, you just feel bad for the kids,” Brown said. “You want them to be out there playing. They want to be out there playing. It’s just a rash of bad luck for us, having three like that in such a short period.”
Brown wonders what might have been had Lomax been healthy for all of last season and Bunch for the beginning of this season.
“It’s a shame not having especially Allyson and Mikala together because when we have those two together at full strength, we were pretty tough,” Brown said. “They just make us so much better and the program so much better.”