Four minutes into last week’s game against Montana, Heidi Stuart drove the lane, stopped and popped into the air for a pass. Her left knee popped, Stuart missed the rest of the game and also sat out the Montana State game as well.
Stuart knows this unfortunate routine. Last year, she was almost done with a fine junior year effort, a time when she averaged 11.2 points and was second on the team in scoring. With three games left Stuart tore the ACL in her left knee and sat out the rest of the season. After a long and difficult summer of rehab, Stuart was ready to return to the court and finish her career on a high note.
For the senior guard and team captain, an easy finish has been decidedly elusive. Her numbers are significantly down from last season, and she is currently averaging 8.6 points a game on just 33 percent shooting. A former sharpshooter from range, Stuart is only hitting three pointers at a .263 clip. She leads the team with 2.7 assists a game, however she has turned the ball over 61 times, for an average of 3.8 turns a contest.
In Stuart’s defense, the team has been without a true point guard for much of the season and the ball handling duties have mostly fallen to her for large stretches. Her best games have come when Sharon Wahinekapu or another in the large roster of small guards has started at point, letting Stuart roam on offense and create for herself.
On the other side of the ball, Stuart routinely takes on the opposing team’s best post player. At 5-9 Stuart is still a better match than many of her teammates, due to her strength and craftiness in the paint. Along with Heather Arns, Stuart has become the mainstay of the Viking defense.
With still much more work to be done this season, that pop could have had devastating effects, ending Stuart’s senior year and robbing the Vikings of their leader.
When the team got back into town, an MRI was scheduled for Tuesday night. The news was very encouraging, but the situation is far from over.
The official injury is a partial tear to Stuart’s left lateral meniscus, which was saved from total destruction only by the brace she wears to protect her surgically repaired ACL.
"She wanted to try playing without [the brace] but the team trainer said no way," said Associate Media Relations Director Andy McNamara. "I guess we got lucky."
Lucky is an understatement, because now the ball is firmly back in Stuart’s court. Doctors have cleared her to play again, and every indicator points to an early return.
"Yeah, my knee’s okay," Stuart said at Thursday’s practice. "I’ll be playing if I can."
With the Vikings currently dwelling in the Big Sky cellar at 2-15, Stuart’s return is mostly a moral victory but at this point in the season anything will do.