It was the sight – and sound – every player, coach and fan of women’s basketball dreads.
A fallen star.
A pop in the knee.
A torn ACL.
The end of a season.
When Liz English tore her right ACL on Dec. 14, 2001, many in the crowd in Columbus, Ohio, gasped as they witnessed what has become an all-too-common injury in the women’s game.
As the Rams’ game with Xavier last Dec. 14 was halted to check the CSU point guard’s injury, the only one not in great shock might have been English herself.
“She was right next to me when she fell and I remember her saying to me, ‘Ashley, I felt a tear,'” Rams senior forward Ashley Augspurger said. “She knew what had happened to her, she knew what was there.”
What was there was pain. A pain Augspurger, who tore her own ACL in the spring of 2000, described as “just a sickening feeling all over your body that kind of makes you sick to your stomach.”
It definitely was not a good pain, but it was one English had felt before, as the Rushville, Ind., native was no stranger to ACL tears.
Where her right ACL writhed in pain that day in Columbus, it was her left ACL that had been torn during her senior year at Rushville Consolidated High School.
“I just remember thinking ‘this isn’t happening again,'” English said. “I had just fully recovered from the first one. We were ranked, playing well and I was looking forward to having a really good season, playing in the
NCAA tournament, and all of that was suddenly shattered that day.”
The Rams’ starting point guard knew she had a long road of rehabilitation and work ahead of her to get back on the court.
“That might have been the one positive of her tearing her other one and having gone through it before; she knew what to expect,” Borton said. “She knew what was ahead of her and I remember her telling me, ‘I’m going to be back for my senior year. I’m going to go out strong.'”
Going out strong would involve months of hard work and conditioning.
English said the first two weeks involved exercises in her bed to get leg motion back. After those two weeks, three to four hours a day were spent in the training room. There, English could be found on an exercise bike, on a stairmaster or doing stretching exercises through the remainder of the Rams’ 2002 season.
English wanted to be back and her team wanted her back too. Before she went down, English was averaging 13 points per game and had tallied 41 assists in just eight games. But more than her statistical prominence, English served as the floor general for a surging, veteran-led team.
“It’s a huge difference with her out there,” Borton said. “To have a senior at point guard who’s been through so much, to have her out there leading it helps us so much.”
Having to watch Ram games from the bench in street clothes was something that caught the point guard, well, off guard.
“I didn’t know how to approach it very well. I kind of pulled myself away because it was so hard to sit there and watch,” English said. “At the same time I tried to help the other point guards, just in terms of leadership because they were younger than me.”
English is back at the reigns of the CSU offense, this year under first-year head coach Chris Denker.
“Liz is key for our offense,” Denker said. “As a coach, you love the fact she understands the game, knows how to run a team and can shoot the ball as well as she can.”
English admits there are still days she doesn’t feel like she’s fully recovered.
“My knee will still give out occasionally. Some days are better than others,” English said. “Every day, I feel like I’m getting a little better.”
The experience of a second ACL tear has also made the senior guard more appreciative of her time on the court.
“I think you just realize that you don’t know when it’s going to slip away. Tearing an ACL can happen in a second and then your season’s over with,” English said. “So every time you’re out there, you try to enjoy the fact that you’re actually getting to play. You could be sitting on the bench with a torn ACL, not being able to participate at all. The fact you can just go out there and play is something you should enjoy in itself.”
Editor’s note: this article also appeared in the December issue of Rams Illustrated