Mia Roberts, like many SMUS athletes, is a multi-sport student; soccer in the spring, field hockey in the fall and basketball in the winter. Of the three, basketball is her sport of choice.
“I started playing it because it was a sport I really liked, compared to something like soccer, which I grew up doing and just continued doing it,” Mia says. “Basketball was a passion I had, so I pushed myself to work on it and it was always up to me to go out and shoot around or go to the school tryouts. Like all the sports I play, I just love the team dynamic of it. The best friends I’ve ever had are from sports teams because you go through that extra ‘something’ with them. And basketball, because it’s my passion, makes it that much better.”
Coming off a strong Grade 10 year (the Junior girls team had one of their best seasons ever at SMUS, winning the City Championship title), Mia was looking forward to joining the Senior girls team as a Grade 11 student in the fall of 2014. She and the rest of the team went in to the season with high expectations.
“I think all of our expectations – mine and the girls’ – were that we would be competitive and it was going to be exciting because there were some really great basketball players in this group,” says coach Ms. Lindsay Brooke.
“I thought we were getting the best merge between the Junior and Senior teams from the year before; we had really great Grade 12s who were staying there and a good group of us moving up to the Senior level,” Mia adds. “I was really excited, especially after our really successful Grade 10 season, because I thought we had a good chance to do well on the Island and maybe make it to provincials.”
The 2014-15 season was to be an important one in her SMUS athletic career, too, especially as she looked ahead at the possibility of playing in post-secondary.
“It’s always been in the back of my mind that it’d be fun to keeping playing after high school somehow. If I were to decide I want to play in university, Grade 11 is where you build up that skill so you’re ready to show off to recruiters in Grade 12,” she says.
Team practices in the fall hinted at a successful season. The girls gelled really well as a team, there was a lot of talent on the court and the players pushed each other to perform to the best of their abilities.
The first game of the year was played Nov. 22, 2014; an inconsequential game against SMUS alumni during the annual Celebration of SMUS Basketball. It’s a game Mia won’t forget.
“We were playing really well for our first game as a team together; we were beating the alumni, which is always fun because the students rarely ever beat the alumni. It was the third quarter and I got the ball on somewhat of a fast break. I was dribbling down the court and saw the defender coming up on my side, so I decided to pull up for a jump shot. And just before I got the ball in both my hands, my knee just gave way,” she recalls. “It was like my body wanted to keep going, but my knee stopped suddenly, so it hyperextended and then as I tried to take my next step, I just collapsed.”
Unfortunately, Mia’s Grade 11 season was over after less than 30 minutes of play.
“It was obviously a bad injury,” Lindsay says. “She couldn’t limp off the court, she stayed on the ground and I kind of knew right away that it was significant enough that it would require surgery. I’ve seen it enough times that you can recognize it.”
Mia tore the ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) in her left knee when it hyperextended. “If you think of straightening it to its full potential and then you think of it going further than that, that’s what happened; the knee went past its range of motion,” she says.
She had to wait until mid-January (almost two months after the injury) to have surgery to repair her damaged knee. Because the ACL isn’t a crucial ligament for walking, after a while on crutches Mia says she was able to walk almost normally by the time surgery occurred.
“Going in for surgery sort of felt like I was stepping backwards, because it felt pretty good, but I knew it needed to happen,” she says.
In the meantime, she watched from the bench as the team struggled on the court. She attended every practice and every game for emotional support and to offer what she could, but she says it was tough to sit there and not play.
Despite everyone’s optimism going into that 2014-15 season, Mia’s injury had a resounding impact on the rest of the team and it showed all season.
“I think the biggest consequence of [Mia’s injury] was the leadership and emotional toll that her being sidelined took on the girls,” Lindsay says. “Especially for the girls she had played with before it was like, ‘Oh we were so good last year, but now our best player is gone.’ We never recovered from that.”
After Mia’s surgery, the first couple of months of rehab focused on comfortably bending and extending her knee, before moving on to applying weight and pressure to the joint. She recalls being frustrated because her knee wouldn’t do what it was supposed to. Months three through six of rehab focused on strength training and getting her range of motion back by running, jumping and pivoting.
“Instead of just keeping it as still as possible and doing movements that way, I started actually treating it like a normal limb again and didn’t have to worry that something was going to happen to it,” she says. “Once I started running it felt really good to be doing something that I could see was making a difference; I could see the improvements so I started feeling better about the whole situation.”
Basketball practices started up in the summer, and by the time September (and field hockey season) rolled around Mia says she could still notice a difference in her injured leg. “I definitely wasn’t able to practice to the full extent I wanted to. I was able to run up and down the court and I was able to shoot, but layups, going off of that one leg and pushing off I definitely could still feel it wasn’t 100 percent,” she says.
She waffled on playing field hockey, but ultimately decided it would be a good test for her. And as goalie of a really strong team, she says she was fortunate that she didn’t see a lot of shots the whole season, which allowed her to keep building the muscle back up without too much worry.
Basketball started up again in late fall and Mia’s first game back on the court in a full year was – appropriately enough – the Celebration of SMUS Basketball alumni game in November.
“It was a great feeling going out onto the court. Before I stepped out I was nervous; I was replaying that moment in my head from the previous year and I was freaking out a little,” she says. “But I realized that it’s just like any other game, and I want to be out there more than anything in the world. I couldn’t let what happened the year before take that excitement away from me this year.”
The Senior girls team won the alumni game 54-39. The girls have also gone on, in the last few months, to win two more tournaments and the team is on track to having one of its best seasons on record. Even excluding these wins, Lindsay says the team dynamic is one of the best she’s seen, with strong positivity and leadership helping the girls stay focused.
“It’s been great. People are excited to see where it goes,” adds Aveen Glen, one of Mia’s best friends and teammates. “Already this season we’ve seen so much improvement and we’ve beaten teams that we thought we couldn’t beat; we’re having the kind of season that we all expected to have last year.”
Sitting on the bench through the tough 2014-15 season, Lindsay says that’s when she saw how big of a role Mia plays in the school’s athletics program – not just physically, but emotionally as well.
“Her leadership really came to light last year. Because she couldn’t play, she developed more vocal leadership skills,” Lindsay says. “Her role on the team evolved because she was able to observe and offer advice from a quasi-coach perspective. Mia has such a strong work ethic; she is a leader by example. If people only actually knew how much time she spent on her own practicing and putting in the hours to train, it would really blow their minds. I don’t think there’s an athlete at this school that works harder.”
For her part, Mia chalks that commitment up to two things.
The first is the level of support she received from Lindsay: “She has been there every step of the way, pushing me to be my best and always supporting me in any way she can,” Mia says. “One of the main reasons I pushed myself as hard as I did was so I could come back and play one more season with her as my coach.”
The second reason is a revelation she had while she was sidelined: “Once I understood how much I missed the sport when I wasn’t playing, I realized that I didn’t want to stop after high school.”
That niggling idea in the back of her mind to play basketball at university is now at the forefront and helped motivate her to recover.
“Mentally and physically, the last year was hard work, but at the same time that’s what pushed me to keep going,” she says. “[I wanted] to make sure I was ready to play this season because there was no way I wasn’t going to be on the court, and there’s no way I’m going to stop playing when this season’s over.”
The injury quashed any hope of her using her Grade 11 year as prep for university recruitment and a lengthy recovery meant she’s really only felt like she’s playing at 100 percent for a few weeks now. That’s why she continues to be so focused on doing what she can to maintain that successful momentum.
“Basketball is her main focus. She is so committed to the sport and that motivates other people around her,” Aveen says about her friend. “It’s been great having her back playing this year. She’s someone we all look up to.”
As the Senior girls basketball season runs through February (hopefully with continued success) and Mia looks ahead to life after SMUS, there’s no denying she has overcome a lot in the past year. Dealing with the physical and mental obstacles that come with a major injury in such a mature way has helped her position herself well for the next steps in her athletic life.
“She has a passion and drive that you don’t see in your typical high school athlete, especially one who has gone through the year she has,” Lindsay says. “Mia is the perfect example of an athlete who espouses the values of respect, leadership, commitment and character – the virtues of the athletics program at SMUS. She is undeniably everything you want in that complete student athlete package.”
(photos by Kyle Slavin)