An ugly black brace, Velcroed together and bending just enough to allow normal movement, partially hides Rachel Drennan’s right leg, covering her knee with the exception of a single racquetball-sized hole directly over the joint. It’s a unmistakable piece of evidence about where Drennan has been, but being on the court during Rock Bridge girls basketball practice is a sign of where she is going.
Friday, the senior guard played in her first game since a devastating knee injury wiped out her junior year. The Bruins edged past host St. Joseph’s Academy 34-33 in the first round of the Turkey Shootout Tournament on a free throw by Andrea Seabaugh with 7 seconds left.
Earlier, after a hard practice, the heavily breathing Drennan recalled how the injury happened.
“I was playing soccer, in a league game,” said Drennan, a 5-foot-9 guard. “I went to clear the ball, and the forward came at me. When I cleared it, I was only on one leg, and she slid into it. I tore my ACL and partially tore my MCL.”
So there sat Drennan, watching her third season on the varsity team pass her by. She looked on as the Bruins stormed to a 23-3 record, only to see them miss the playoffs by losing to Jefferson City.
That, she said, was the worst part.
“It was really tough for me to watch the game against Jeff City, because if we had won that, I was at a point in my rehab that I could have come in for a little bit,” Drennan said. “The longer the season went, the better chance I had to play, but I never did.”
Jill Nagel was in her first year as the Bruins coach during Drennan’s lost season, but Nagel said the guard never felt sorry for herself.
“It was bad, but she turned a negative into a positive by being at every practice,” Nagel said. “Instead of sitting around moping, she was learning all of the plays, and with me as a first-year coach, she was learning a new system. So when it came to the summer and we went to team camps, she knew what she was doing.”
But the often-difficult rehab is behind Drennan, and she finds herself poised to reclaim her place as one of the premier players on the Bruins squad. Her teammates had such faith in her, they voted her as team co-captain. Junior Claire Schaeperkoetter, the team’s other co-captain, said having Drennan back on the floor makes the team immediately better.
“I stuck with her all through the last year, and I know it was tough for her to sit on the bench,” Schaeperkoetter said. “To have her back gives our team a huge boost. It’s big.”
Drennan still plays with the brace on her right leg, a constant reminder of her injury. But when asked if she feared Drennan’s reluctance to play her hardest for fear of reinjuring her knee, Nagel balked.
“You can’t worry about injuries,” Nagel said. “When you worry about injuries, that’s when you slow down, and that’s when you get hurt.”
The Bruins’ 23-3 mark last season is impressive, but the team says it is confident it can take the next step with a district championship this year. Returning three starters from 2005-2006 is part of the reason for the team’s confidence, but Drennan said much of the responsibility will fall to her.
“There’s a lot riding on my shoulders personally,” Drennan said. “It’s a last chance to do something. I’m still deciding if I want to play in college, and how I play this year will probably decide it for me.”
A bright smile crossing her face, Drennan looked down at the floor, as if to make sure the bulky black brace was still there.
“For me, I’m starting all over again,” Drennan said.
Rock Bridge lost 40-31 to Francis Howell Central on Saturday. Ashley Dressler, who scored 12 for the Bruins (1-1) on Friday, led the team again with another 12 points against Francis Howell. Katherine Harry added 10 points.