There’s an abbreviated medical term that will put terror into the heart of any basketball coach… torn ACL. An injury to the anterior cruciate ligament, one of the four major ligaments in the knee, can sideline a key player for an entire season – and turn that season upside down.
And that’s what has happened to Trent May and the Grand Canyon University women’s basketball program. The sixth-year head coach entered last night’s historic game against University of Texas Pan-American (UTPA) without his top scorer, Judy Jones.
Jones, a senior guard/forward who joined the program last year from University of Texas-San Antonio, has been averaging nearly a double-double on a regular basis, scoring 15 points and nine rebounds a game. But she went down just seven minutes into the last game, a 72-63 win over LIU Brooklyn, boosting the season record to 11-2 as the Antelopes began preparation for their conference opener in Texas against UTPA.
Last night’s game is significant because it marks the beginning of play in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and the first conference game ever as a D-I school. GCU is in the first year of a four-year transition phase from Division II to full accreditation as a Division I program.
And, as luck would have it, Jones wasn’t the only one missing from the starting line-up. The ‘Lopes were also without the services of two other injured starters, seniors Johnna Brown and Justine Johnson. Both are also transfers who were giving GCU some much-needed experience as it entered a new era. With seven newcomers to the roster this year, May had loaded the recruiting class with transfers.
Brown is a 6-0 forward who came from Dixie State and Johnson is a local product who played at Gilbert High School before starting her college career at Weber State.
Despite putting just two starters on the floor, the ‘Lopes came within two points of beating UTPA. They came back from an early 13-point deficit and actually took the lead for a brief time in the second half by scoring 14 unanswered points before UTPA pulled away for the 60-58 win.
With senior forward Deanna Daniels and senior guard Kaitlyn Petersen the only two regulars in the line-up, May went to his full bench in the first half, giving each of his players at least three minutes to see what kind of combination he could come up with to offset the missing pieces.
Peterson finished with 15 points and seven assists and Daniels kicked in another eight points, combined with nine rebounds and two steals. And the 6’4″ senior center, Asha McDonnell, stepped into the starting line-up and had a big night, equaling a school record with five blocked shots while also leading the scoring with 16 points.
But it wasn’t quite enough and the ‘Lopes enter a new era in program history with a loss.
“”I love these girls and am proud of each one of them,” May said after the game, addressing the need to compete short-handed. “There are times in a season that you learn from tough lessons, and tonight was one of those times. We will regroup and be ready for our next opportunity.”
The loss has to be especially frustrating since the team had just cracked the national rankings, coming in at No. 25 in the latest CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major poll. And Pan American, which came into last night’s game with a 6-7 record and also playing its first-ever game in the WAC, was a team they would likely have beaten.
They also set a school record this season with a 6-0 start. But now the problem is finishing the season with enough wins to overcome this unexpected detour to what was turning into a memorable year.
(Photo: GCU Athletics/ Darryl Webb)