No sooner had Maddie Shifflett begun to hit her stride as a starter on the University of Mary Washington women’s basketball team than she found herself learning how to walk again.
Just seven games into her sophomore season, Shifflett landed awkwardly on a drive to the basket and suffered a torn ACL in her left knee. At the time of her injury, she was averaging 11.3 points per game.
“You know you never know how a kid’s going to come off an ACL,” UMW coach Deena Applebury said.
Thirteen months later, it’s safe to say Applebury and the Eagles have their answer.
Despite the presence of a bulky knee brace, Shifflett leads UMW in every relevant offensive statistical category, including scoring (15.1 PPG), rebounds (6.3) field goal percentage (46.9 percent) and 3-point percentage (43.9).
The 5-foot-10 forward has misfired on just three free-throw attempts all season, a principal reason the Eagles lead Division-III nationally with a 78.1 percent clip at the line. The Eagles (11–3) open conference play on Saturday, hosting St. Mary’s (Md.) at 1 p.m.
Shifflett described watching her young UMW team struggle to a 14–13 mark last season as a painful experience. It was also an educational one.
“I think it made me a smarter player,” she said of her extended layoff. “I could learn from watching my teammates play. It’s a different perspective.”
And it helped to have some company.
Sophomore guard Emily Shively also was dealing with a season-ending knee injury last season. The two teammates underwent surgery within a week of one another. From recovery to each stage of rehab, Shifflett and Shively had a confidant who understood the process.
“It was two of us, so we kind of always were on the floor cheering [the team] on,” Shifflett said. “So I think that was good to have another person to go through that with.”
Shifflett began her rehab at UMW last winter and eased herself back onto the court during offseason captain’s workouts. Rigorous physical therapy gave way to basketball-specific conditioning as she neared a return.
Wearing a brace hasn’t weighed Shifflett down in the post.
“It was funky at first to get used to, but now I kind of like having it because it prevents contact tears,” she said. “I think it makes me feel better that I’m protected mentally if I get hit. I don’t think it limits me in terms of movement.”
She hasn’t been limited in terms of minutes, either. When the Eagles opened the preseason, Applebury allowed Shifflett to dictate the pace of her return. But it didn’t take long for the longtime coach to realize that she was back--and then some.
“Once the game gets taken away from you, you just play with a little bit of a different mindset,” Applebury said. “I think her performance this year is a result of that.”