By Nnenna Nnaji, '21
November 22, 2016 was one of the worst days of Caden Ebeling's life. It was only the third game of his first season at the collegiate level and Ebeling's first game as a member of the starting lineup, facing against Heidelberg University in a non-conference game. He played only three minutes before he tore his anterior cruciate ligament by landing awkwardly from shooting a jump shot.
"When I went down I felt this pop in my knee, it was something that I never felt before so in that moment I knew something was wrong," Ebeling said. "That was my first time starting as a freshman and also the first game my family came out to, and I really wanted to do well and impress them."
According to the Mayo Clinic's website, the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is one of the major knee ligaments, and it connects the thigh bone to the shinbone.
An injury to the ACL can be "a tear or sprain" and is most common "during sports that involve sudden stops or changes in direction, jumping and landing". The Mayo Clinic identifies these injuries as involving the kind of "pop" sound Ebeling described followed by swelling, feelings of instability, and extreme pain when bearing weight with the injured leg.
Head Coach Jody May had been hopeful about Ebeling's performance before this devastating injury.
"He had a really good month of practice," May said. "He played very well the first two games, so we decided to start him in this one. He went through workouts and conditioning, working very hard, so I was just devastated for him."
Now a junior and fully recovered from the ACL injury, Ebeling finished the 2018-19 season as an all-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) first team pick averaging 14.6 points while shooting 58 percent from the floor and 77 percent from the free throw line. Ebeling also contributed 16 points and 9 rebounds, in the 76-73 victory over Trine that brought the MIAA tournament title home to Albion for the first time since 1998.
"That moment was probably one of the best feelings I have ever had in my life," Ebeling said. "Just sharing that moment with the guys, who are like my brothers, made it even more special."
Recovering from an ACL injury is a long process and the goal of returning to sports seems impossible for some. For Ebeling, past successes and the support of his teammates have provided the motivation to keep going through his two challenging years of physical therapy and recovery.
"I didn't really trust my knee yet," Ebeling said of the 2017-18 season when he averaged 5.8 points and 4.1 rebounds in 25 games. "I just wanted to become the player I was before that injury, if not better. The first season back – last year – I really wasn't the same player I knew myself to be, so I worked hard to show everyone what kind of player I was before the injury and how much better I could be."
Ebeling added, "My teammates pushed me in the weight room to make sure that I got better and gave me constant encouragement that all paid off in the end. Now I just plan on getting better and growing as a player and accomplishing more with the guys."
Now, Ebeling is one of the most recognized front court players in the MIAA. He averaged a MIAA-best 8.9 rebounds in the 14 league games and secured a place on the all-MIAA first team alongside teammate Jamezell Davis, Jr. Ebeling credits Coach May for his development and achievements this season.
"Coach May knows what he's talking about. When I first came here I was mainly an outside shooter, now he has developed me into one of the better post players in this league, so I have to give a lot of credit to him for that. Without him I probably wouldn't be where I am right now," said Ebeling.
Although injuries can be a burden for student athletes, Ebeling has coped with the mental and physical demands of his recovery by working hard and maintaining a positive attitude.
"I constantly stay in the weight room and in the gym working on my shot and working on game situations. I am always doing something that will benefit me," Ebeling said. "This injury really gave me a mindset that has made me a greater player. I always work hard and stay motivated so that I continue to get better and stronger and be an example for others who have to go through this as well as my team."
Ebeling plans to be a big part of the continuing success of the Britons as they work to stay on top of the MIAA.
"Now that we've won the tournament championship, we have the target on our back. We must work even harder than we did this year," Ebeling said. "That starts with bringing a lot of energy, working hard in the weight room, and pushing each other."
With a healthy knee, and a victorious end to his first full season, Ebeling is turning his attention to the future.
"The six seniors set a really good example for me and what I have to do for these next few years," he said. "I have to work on being a leader vocally, leading by example, and continuing to be one of the hardest workers on the team, so I am able to set a good example for our younger guys."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nnenna Nnaji is a sophomore from Detroit and a product of the journalism program at Renaissance High School. An exercise science major at Albion, she is still considering a career in sports journalism.
Joe and Julie Serra have given a $5 million leadership gift to launch a fundraising initiative to make two dreams a reality at Albion College. The first is a newly expanded fitness and student activity facility at the site of the current Dow Recreation and Wellness Center. The second is a new or renovated competition facility for the volleyball, men's basketball and women's basketball that currently call Kresge Gymnasium home.
The College is continuing to raise funds in support of both projects. To learn more, call 517/629-0446 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.