COLUMBIA — Haley Caldwell fell to the floor and knew something was wrong.
It was obvious to her. She had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee, again. For the second consecutive year, her basketball season would be lost.
No. 9 Illinois-Springfield (4-26, 1-13 in AMC play) vs. No. 8 Stephens College (3-28, 2-14)
WHEN: 10 a.m., Friday
WHERE: Field 1 at Fields of Legends in Jefferson City
The winner advances to play No. 1 seed Williams Woods immediately following the game at Field 1. The loser is eliminated from the tournament.
Not only did Caldwell tear her ACL on October 1, 2008, the first day of basketball practice at Stephens College, but she also learned that she might never play again.
“My doctor told me, 'If you want to be able to walk when you’re 30, you might want to hang it up,'” Caldwell said. “That was enough for me.”
It was the fourth time she had torn the ligament, once in her right leg and three times in her left. The running, sharp cuts to the basket, and going up for rebounds made basketball weren't activities that her knee could easily withstand.
Last season, while playing basketball at John Woods Community College, she tore her ACL just one month into the basketball season.
It wasn’t easy for Caldwell to listen.
“It was very, very, very hard. Basketball is my first love,” Caldwell said. “Now, it’s really hard to watch basketball on TV, and it was hard to watch the girls play without me.”
Despite the setback, Caldwell was not ready to give up sports altogether.
She had planned to play softball for Stephens in the spring. Yet opting for surgery would eliminate that possibility. With the permission of her doctor, Caldwell decided to hold off on surgery until after the softball season.
“My doctor told me I could do it, as long as I have my brace on,” Caldwell said. “My brace helps. It keeps my knee from falling out of place.”
Stars coach Pam Dodge has been impressed with the toughness Caldwell has shown.
“She’s had some problems, but has played through it,” Dodge said. “She’s definitely a fighter.”
Despite the brace, Caldwell said the pain isn't totally relieved.
“It hurts sometimes. Stepping on the bag, when all of my weight is put on it, I can feel it,” Caldwell said.
What makes Caldwell’s ability to play through the injury more remarkable is the position she plays — shortstop.
It’s not as if she stands over at first base, with only a few feet to cover. Her position demands that she adjust to balls on both sides of her, track sharp grounders in the hole, and dart to second base on double play chances. Quickness and agility are a must.
But Caldwell says the amount of moving she has to do at the position is to her advantage.
“I have to try and be quicker," she said. "If I stand still too much, it gets stiff. I have to be more aware and always moving.”
Remarkably, Caldwell is also the Stars' stolen base leader and leads the team with a .302 on base percentage.
Despite Caldwell’s heart and determination, the Stars have struggled this season to a 3-28 record. Not everything has gone wrong, however. The Stars won their first games in the American Midwest Conference, beating Missouri Baptist and Illinois-Springfield once apiece.
“Our girls have put out the effort. I think we have progressed in every game. A lot of the games we’ve lost in the seventh inning,” Dodge said. “We’ve had a successful season. We just wish the record showed it more.”
Even with a date with her doctor looming on May 12, Caldwell does not regret holding off on her surgery.
“I’m a very competitive person. I don’t get to play basketball anymore, I’m bad there because I love it,” Caldwell said. “But we’ve had a lot of fun this season, even though our record doesn’t show it.”