Hobbled Hayes back where she belongs

When Antania Hayes tore her the ACL in her left knee five minutes into last year’s Horizon League tournament opener, she not only knew her season was over. She was pretty sure her career Wright State career was finished as well.

One month later when Katrina Merriweather was named to replace Mike Bradury as head coach on April 19 – Hayes' 21st birthday – she was resigned to the fact that she wouldn't have the services of the only senior on the team.

But then Hayes walked out of surgery on April 29 and started her rehab the same day.

“At first I wasn’t thinking about playing, just graduating and see what might happen with my career after that,” Hayes said. “But then I realized I had to give it a shot.”

The doctors told Hayes the best possible scenario would be to return sometime in January. She thought she could make it back by Jan. 1.

Everyone was wrong.

The 6-foot-1 Detroit native made her season debut Dec. 15, against Cincinnati Christian, scoring 8 points in eight minutes of action.

“I was pretty emotional,” she admitted. “A month or so into rehab, it got really hard. It was really rocky. There were times when I wondered if it was worth it.”

Even though she had successfully rehabbed a tear of her right ACL when she was 11, the doubts continued through the summer and into the fall. But so did her fight.

Then came a particularly hard day in October. It was the first time she tried to jump, and when he landed she broke down.

“I wasn’t ready for the pain when I landed,” she said. “I was scared I cried. I wanted to give up, but my teammates were all there telling me ‘You got this. You can do it.’ My teammates and my family made sure I kept going.”

So did WSU trainer Brianna Albers, who had just started working with the team in June when former trainer Brad Muse moved over to work with the baseball team.

“I was concerned about switching trainers because she had a great relationship with Brad and can be temperamental about certain things,” Merriweather said. “I thought if we get the wrong trainer in here, we could have problems. But we got a great trainer.

“Bri has done a phenomenal job in dealing with Hayes,” Merriweather added. “Not just the physical part, but the psychological part that comes along with being a senior and being hurt and thinking you’re not going to get to play your last year, wanting to give up and say this isn’t worth it.”

While Hayes is back in action, she knows she isn’t all the way back. She’s still just a role player for Raiders after starting 28 games last year while averaging 12.2 points and 7.5 rebounds, but she’s good with that.

“I’m trying to ease my way back in,” she said. “I’m really not trying to rush it. I know I started all the games last year, but this year isn’t about starting, it’s about getting right, getting back to the Hayes I was last year, or even getting better than I was last year.”

The Raiders were 4-4 and riding a four-game losing streak when Hayes returned. Since she’s been back they have won six of seven, although she missed Thursday night’s victory against Youngstown State due to the flu.

“She’s a winner,” Merriweather said of Hayes, who is expected to be back for Saturday’s game against Cleveland State. “Anything that happens on any team that happens across the country, if you’ve got kids that love basketball and are used to winning, you can overcome a lot of obstacles, including injuries.”

And Hayes has had more than her share of injuries. In addition to the two torn ACLs, she’s overcome a broken hand, a dislocated shoulder and a fractured ankle.

“You can call me injury prone or unlucky or whatever,” she said. “All I know is I keep getting up and I keep coming back.”

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