The Juneau-Douglas girls high school basketball team was feeling pretty good after Saturday's 53-42 victory over Ketchikan, which ended a rare five-game losing streak for the Crimson Bears.
But early this week, the Crimson Bears received a blow when it was learned that senior guard Tanya Nizich tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee during Friday's 60-54 overtime loss to Ketchikan that allowed the Kings to clinch the regular-season Region V-Class 4A title. Nizich said she's watched the video several times of her collision with Ketchikan's Fe Villanueva, which ended a first quarter where she scored 10 points as Juneau jumped out to an early lead.
``It's a lot worse than we thought. I tore the ACL. It's a complete tear,'' said Nizich, who leads Juneau this season with 14.4 points and 2.8 assists a game. ``I just hope I can finish out the season.''
Nizich plans to sit out tonight's and Saturday night's regular-season finales in Sitka, which both start at 8 p.m. and will have audio feeds broadcast on GCI Cable Channel 6. But Nizich does hope to play again once the swelling in her knee goes down, and on Wednesday she received a special-order knee brace she hopes to use in the Southeast Championships March 15-18 in Ketchikan.
Even though Nizich played in Saturday's victory over Ketchikan, scoring 12 points while using a knee brace she borrowed from senior forward Erin Mesdag, Nizich's ability to play in the Southeast tournament is uncertain.
``These games (this weekend) are very important for us to see how we look without Tanya,'' Juneau coach Jim Hamey said. ``I think we're pretty determined to see whether we can step up and get the job done. We've got a couple of new wrinkles, both offensively and defensively, and we'll be using this week to test them out.''
Nizich said she heard a lot of pops - ``about 20'' - during the collision with Villanueva, but when she went to the hospital emergency room Friday night she was told it was unlikely she'd torn the ACL. So, since there was no swelling, Nizich decided to play Saturday and hit four critical 3-pointers in Juneau's victory. She went to her doctor's office on Tuesday morning to check out the now-swollen knee, then was called back for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test that afternoon that revealed the torn ligament.
``Everybody's pretty surprised I was able to play Saturday,'' Nizich said. ``My plan is to rest this weekend, then go for it during the Southeast tournament as best I can. I can tear the cartilage worse, but the risk is low. There's not much more I can do to it, and my doctor gave me the OK to play once the swelling goes back down.''
A lightweight fiberglass knee brace was airfreighted to Juneau, and Nizich said she plans to have surgery about a week after the state basketball tournament March 23-25 in Anchorage. One surgery option Nizich is considering is having an ACL from a cadaver being transplanted into her knee.
Hamey said Nizich traveled to Sitka with the team, although she will be in street clothes for both games. The Crimson Bears (12-8 overall, 3-3 in region action) have beaten Sitka (7-13, 0-6) three times this year, but those were early in the season when the Wolves were getting used to a new coach and system.
``This is also the Sitka team we will have to play on Thursday (March 16, in the first round of the Region V-Class 4A tournament), so we should get a decent read on how we stand and how much they've improved,'' Hamey said. ``Sitka lost to Chugiak by two points a couple of weeks ago, and Chugiak just beat East. They've got some good personnel and they learned a lot from their trip up north.''
Sitka is in the midst of its own five-game losing streak, and coach Rich Krupa said his team is looking to play the role of spoiler the rest of the season.
``We're pretty healthy and we've got nothing to lose,'' Krupa said. ``We've been having a lot of fun lately. We're not really learning a lot of new stuff, we've just been bonding. Our team morale is pretty high.''
Sitka will most likely start Breanne Erickson at center, Christine Grun at power forward, Kerri Curtiss at small forward, Tricia Young at off guard and Sidney Wyman at point guard, Krupa said. Erickson has been the team's leader in scoring and rebounding, but lately her production has declined as teams have been keying on Erickson in the low post. Erickson has also been passing the ball back out to the perimeter a lot more, too, Krupa said.
Juneau's starting lineup isn't as set, but junior Courtney Mason and sophomore Suzanne Parr will pick up a lot of Nizich's minutes at the point guard spot. Mason twisted her ankle in the fourth quarter Friday's loss to Ketchikan, but was able to tape it up and play in Saturday's victory. Hamey said her ankle is still sore, but Mason should be able to play.
Hamey said Juneau showed improvement in the weekend series with Ketchikan, and the Crimson Bears need to continue that improvement this week, despite Nizich's injury.
``I don't think one person can do it (pick up Nizich's production), but we can do it if we collectively step up,'' Hamey said. ``We need to continue to show improvement, like we did last week. We showed a lot more patience in our offense, and we were able to take that extra pass and share the ball so we could take good shots. I'm looking for big-time improvement. We need to play better than we have been this past month.''