The Albion College women's basketball regular season victory over Alma College on Jan. 13 was anything but ordinary for Catie Neary.
The senior from Brookston, Ind., approached the scorer's table to check in midway through the second quarter to loud cheers because she was returning to game action for the first time in more than a year.
Neary's junior campaign ended prematurely.
The Britons were coasting to victory over Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association rival Saint Mary's College Dec. 3, 2016, and Neary was enjoying her best game of the season to date. She had scored 11 points and went to add to that total when she stopped to jump before attempting a layup midway through the fourth quarter.
Neary was charged with a turnover, however, as she lost control of the ball and let out a loud scream when she laid on the floor after feeling a rip in her right knee. It turned out to be a tear of her anterior cruciate ligament.
"It was an emotional moment knowing I would not play the seniors again," Neary said of the moment.
While she mourned the loss of two-thirds of her junior season, Neary was determined to do the rehabilitation necessary to be ready for the start of practice at the start of her senior season.
Except her rehabilitation was interrupted after breaking her patella in half during a fall on campus after surgery to repair the torn ligament.
"I wondered if I would ever play basketball again," Neary said.
The surgeon who repaired the ACL and patella provided the encouraging news that Neary could return to the court.
Backed with a strong support system, Neary returned to the rehabilitation process. She says any spare time during the spring semester last year was devoted to physical therapy.
"I pretty much lived in the athletic training room," Neary said, adding she was working to get her cardiovascular conditioning back whenever she wasn't involved with physical therapy. "My leg was like a cement block after being straight for a month. The hardest part was getting the range of motion back. There was pain and tears."
The physical therapy work continued last summer while she balanced three jobs and classes she was taking to get on track for graduation after changing her major from pre-med to pharmacy. She even did rehabilitation homework and did ball handling and shooting drills to maintain her basketball skills.
"There wasn't any time for vacation or social time with friends," she said.
About the only setback Neary ever experienced was the time it took her to become comfortable running. She wasn't getting a full stride – a feeling like her leg was collapsing – when she first tried.
"I expected to jump in and be normal," Neary said. "I didn't realize how hard it would be, but I stepped up to the challenge. Everyone was positive around me. The more I ran, the more I felt comfortable."
Neary returned to practice in December and, while she says she wasn't expecting to score, she contributed seven points off the bench in her season debut.
"I shut down the wave of emotion (I felt at the scorer's table), but it was special to come back in a good atmosphere at home," Neary said. "I wanted to play defense and rebound. I kept telling myself, 'Don't try too much.' It said a lot about (head coach Doreen Carden's) trust in me (when she went in the lineup in the second quarter). It was a reward for going hard in practice."
Neary remains philosophical about the past – "everything happens for a reason," she says – and she says it has helped her gain an appreciation for the opportunity to play. Now she is turning her attention to the rest of her collegiate basketball career. She hopes it doesn't end for a while.
"I got what I wanted – to be on the court," Neary said. "The last year helped me grow as a basketball player and a person because I used to be hard on myself, but I've learned to enjoy the time on the court.
"I want to leave a legacy about how hard I worked which I hope will be a great role model for future players," she finished.
Follow the Britons on Twitter: @AlbionWBB