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Rock Bridge senior Bri Porter plays in championship after 3 years of injuries

Saturday, March 22, 2014 | 7:35 p.m. CDT; updated 9:31 p.m. CDT, Saturday, March 22, 2014
Rock Bridge's Bri Porter waits on the sideline before she re-entered the state championship game at Mizzou Arena on Saturday. Rock Bridge won 62-45.

COLUMBIA – Abrianna Porter had been waiting three years for this. The last two years she watched but this year she played.

The senior forward at Rock Bridge High School, who goes by the nickname "Bri," scored 12 points to help the Bruins win their third straight state championship with a 62-45 win against Lee's Summit North.

With less than a minute left in the game, Porter walked off the court and received a hug from coach Jill Nagel. Porter's sister Cierra greeted her next, hugging her tightly as they both smiled.

Bri Porter celebrated more than a state championship on Saturday.

She celebrated a season that almost didn't happen. 

Repeated injuries

Cierra Porter walked into the house without her sister Bri.

"Where's Bri?" Lisa Porter, Bri and Cierra's mom, asked.

"She's in the car," Cierra Porter said.

It had been two weeks since Bri Porter had heard those four words — anterior cruciate ligament tear — for the third time.

In her three years of high school, she had now torn her ACL in her right knee three times. The first tear came as a shock when she was a freshman. She knew she tore it again the moment it happened during her sophomore year.

But this third injury made no sense.

Lisa Porter went out to the car to find a sobbing daughter.  

She sat with her daughter for an hour as the high school junior cried and questioned whether she would ever play basketball again. Another year of what she had just gone through. Another year that would set her back even further. Another year of watching her team compete without her. Everything hit her at once. She didn't think she'd play again.

"I was just trying to hold it together," Bri Porter said. "I thought I could."

Both of her parents had played basketball in college, but Lisa Porter was ready to support her daughter if she decided not to play.

"I think she just needed to know that we loved her way apart from anything she did with basketball," her mother said. "That was not what defined our love or our relationship with her."

Two weeks later, Bri Porter needed to tell her mom something. She had been listening to the song "He Said" by the Christian band Group 1 Crew, and she felt like God had used that song to speak to her.

"You may be knocked down now but don't forget what He said, He said: 'I won't give you more, more than you can take and I might let you bend, but I won't let you break...'"

She was going to play basketball again.

Early beginnings

From an early age, her parents weren't sure if she would play basketball. According to Lisa Porter, her daughter wanted to be an Olympic gymnast. She still gives her mom a hard time when she remembers when her mom said God didn't give her the body type for gymnastics.

When the Porters started their daughter in basketball at the age of 4, she usually played on teams with boys. Bri Porter wasn't a big fan of basketball back then. Lisa Porter remembers the first game she was supposed to play.

"She came running up into the stands and she said 'Do I have to play the game?'" Lisa Porter recalled with a laugh. "So I let her just watch the whole game."

The high school senior's earliest basketball memory is her mom putting her on a YMCA team that she hated. She also couldn't remember where to play offense and defense.

It wasn't until she was 9 years old that she fell in love with basketball, playing for her dad on an Amateur Athletic Union team. Michael Porter, an assistant coach with the Missouri women's basketball team, started training his daughter with age-appropriate basketball skills when she was 6 years old. He became her AAU coach and then coached her during her elementary and junior high school years when the family lived in Indiana.

Michael Porter remembers his daughter's junior high AAU championship as the moment he felt she could be someone special on the basketball court. She is excited to have her dad as a coach again when she joins Missouri next season. Michael Porter is also looking forward to his oldest daughter's transition to college, but believes this will be the hardest thing she’s ever done.

"I think this will be harder for her than coming back from her knee injuries because I think one of the hardest transitions is to go from being a high school player to a college player at this level," Michael Porter said. "The demands on your time, the demands on your body, how into it you have to be mentally, emotionally, physically. At this level, you have to be all in or it’ll eat you up or you won't enjoy it."

Bri Porter won't be the only familiar face on the coaching staff. Missouri coach Robin Pingeton is her aunt.

Growing up as the oldest of eight children, Bri Porter has learned to treasure her family. The familial feel of Missouri’s basketball team is what kept the oldest Porter close to home.

"I just decided that if I was gonna play basketball in college, I wanted to play for people I knew would love me on and off the court, that was a big thing," Bri Porter said. "Just a team that, you just feel like you’re part of a family."

When Pingeton talked about recruiting her niece, she emphasized her excellence both on the court and in the classroom. Inspired by her love of math, Bri Porter plans to double major in electrical engineering and physics at Missouri.

"I want to do something that can impact people," she said. "This could change, but my ideal thing would be to go into energy or something like that."

She taught herself calculus over the summer and loves to read science books when she has free time. She encourages her brothers and sisters to step away from their video games to go read a book. She loves to read because she loves learning new things, but she's not the only one who benefits from the knowledge.

"I love going to coffee with her because she's so well read that she can make any conversation extremely interesting," Lisa Porter said. "I learn from her every day."

Michael Porter describes his daughter as a deep thinker.

"It’s not often that a dad will admit that in terms of academics his daughter is smarter than he is when she's in high school, but that's the case with her," Michael Porter said. "So Bri and I, as a result, can talk about deep things more on a peer level than you would a normal teenager."

Thirteen years separate Bri Porter from her youngest sibling. She plays two-on-two basketball with her sister against the older of their five younger brothers. Attending Missouri in the fall lets her remain close to her family.

"She's a great role model for them," Lisa Porter said. "A good gift for me as a mom to have my first one be somebody that they all have learned from."

Cierra Porter admires her sister's perseverance and is set to follow her to Missouri after her senior year at Rock Bridge. The two shared a moment with their arms around each other near the Rock Bridge bench after the game.

On Saturday, Bri Porter stood on the court in Mizzou Arena with her medal around her neck. She tried to control her emotions as she thought about how she finally made it through a season uninjured.

"I was trying to hold back tears, I don't really know why," she said. "I think because it's been a goal for so long, to finally get here is meaningful."

Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.


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