Unusual injuries impact Badgers late season playoff push

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It’s cliché to say luck only lasts for so long, but for Brock women’s basketball, they are hoping now is the time their luck turns from bad to good.

On Saturday night, against the one-win Waterloo Warriors, the Badgers had leading scorer Kristin Gallant, point guard Ana Rua and forward Shannon Northey all return from injuries that kept them out for five games.

“We would have liked them all to be playing on Wednesday [versus Guelph], but they weren’t healthy to play a varsity game,” said head coach Ashley MacSporran.

The injuries for the Badgers have been more consistent than victories this season.

Ieva Sukevicitue, a first-year forward, went down in December after someone stepped on her foot; Stephanie Findlay injured her head and shoulder versus Guelph; Allie Columbus (returning from an ACL injury) was two days away from making her season debut before her hand got caught in practice, leading to a fracture; and Gallant was going up for a rebound before hitting one of her own teammates leading to a concussion.

“They practice hard because you have to practice as hard as you play,” said MacSporran.

These injuries have followed the Badgers for two consecutive seasons now. In the final month of the 2016-17 season, the Badgers had a seven-player lineup, and only had six healthy for their first-round matchup versus Lakehead last season.

The Badgers only have three returning players on their roster from last year, which has made the transition a little tougher for MacSporran and her team.

“With the injuries, its been trial by fire,” said the coach.

Although the Badgers have only posted a 2-5 record thus far in 2018, and their playoff hopes are growing slimmer each day, they have some bright spots for the future. Gallant was a top OUA scorer before her injury, and first-year players Lauren Zonneveld and Miranda Smith have stepped up huge with minimal university experience.

Zonneveld was seeing only 10 minutes per game in the first 11 games for Brock, but over the last seven, she has seen her minutes increase to 24.6 minutes per game. Smith has taken increased minutes and used them to become a three-point threat the Badgers had desperately been missing. In the last six games, Smith has played 29.3 minutes and has shot 50 per cent from three.

On Saturday, in a 71-44 win over Waterloo, Smith scored a career-high 16 points on four of six shooting from three. Baelie Campbell also added 16, and in her return, Gallant scored 13 on four of eight shooting.

“Gallant, Sukeviciute, Zonneveld and Smith are going to be phenomenal the next couple years,” MacSporran said of her future core.

With six games left the Badgers sit four points away from a playoff spot. Four of their final six games are on the road and their two home games are against 12-6 Lakehead. Two of their road games are against Laurier and Western — the two teams Brock beat to begin the season 2-0.

“I had more belief at times than they did, and that’s hard when you’re getting grinded out,” MacSporran said of her young core. The Badgers had two tough stretches this season, including their Kingston-Toronto road trip and the four consecutive games they played against OUA top teams McMaster (twice), Carleton and Ottawa.

The hope amongst the team is still to make the playoffs, but they have a tougher schedule compared to the teams they’re trying to catch.

The season is still alive for the Badgers, for now, but with players slowly returning from injuries its more about building a foundation for next season and the season’s following. Luck has not followed this program for a couple seasons, but this could be the turning point.

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