It’s hard to remember back to Oregon’s first preseason game. Or its second.
In those two late October games, the Oregon women’s basketball team outscored its opponents 223-140 on its way to two dominant victories. At that point, behind the starting back court of Laura Stanulis and Lexi Petersen, the Ducks had a bright season ahead of them.
Both had shown dominant play, especially in the preseason, when Stanulis averaged a triple-double with 10.5 points, 11 rebounds, 15 assists and 4.5 steals, while Petersen averaged a team-high 25 points, 6.5 rebounds and three assists.
The regular season, however, has been a different story as two games into the season, both players tore their ACLs, shattering the high expectations in the process. Without a natural point guard to run head coach Paul Westhead’s complicated offensive schemes, or a go-to scorer, the team went into a tailspin.
Former Jesuit head coach Mike McNeal coached against Stanulis when she played at crosstown rival Sunset. Now a coach at her alma mater, McNeal knows how hard it can be to stop her when she’s at her best.
“When we played Sunset, we only prepared for one thing; how to stop Laura,” McNeal said. “We never gave any of her teammates another thought. The only way to beat them was to stop Laura.”
The effect of the injuries were obvious on court, but off court both girls have been forced to endure a season where, to this point, the Ducks are 3-17. Due to their competitive drive, their natural inclination is to want to be around the team and give advice, but their rehab schedule keeps the two in the locker room for the majority of practice time, sectioned off from the rest of the team.
“During practices, I am always down in the treatment room with Lexi, working on getting our legs better,” Stanulis said of her role since the injury. “I don’t really see much of practice, so it’s hard to help coach people as much as I would like.”
The loss of Stanulis couldn’t have come at a worse time. With young players such as Jillian Alleyne, Devyn Galland and Jordan Loera, leadership on the court is badly needed. The team is averaging 21.3 turnovers per game, with a 0.6 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“She is a leader on and off the floor, which, as you have seen this season, is one reason Oregon can’t win,” McNeal said of Stanulis. “There is no leader.”
She is now faced with the decision of how she wants to end her basketball career. During interviews she alluded to playing next season, and with the injury, she is eligible for a medical redshirt — but the athletic department has made no official decision.
Eventually, she aspires to get her doctorate and become a heart surgeon, and a final year with the Ducks would push her medical schooling back a year.
For Petersen, the situation is morbid deja vu: She tore her ACL during her senior year of high school when she played at Seattle Christian and sat out the majority of the season.
Bob Kickner, Petersen’s former coach at the school, observed her first ACL injury.
“Going into her senior year, we were a highly ranked program because of Lexi,” Kickner said. “We had prepared preseason to showcase Lexi because she was playing outstanding. With the athleticism and creativity that Lexi has … she put her body in unique situations. Spin moves, flying through the key, throwing her body to the wind. That’s what makes her a great player, but (players like that) have a high propensity for knee injuries.”
In high school, she didn’t didn’t have a fellow teammate going through the same process with her. She more or less had to go through it alone: It was her senior year, and she knew she would never play with her high school team again, and so she kind of drifted away from them and dealt with the injury internally.
“It really became difficult for her (after the surgery) because there wasn’t really a role for her,” Kickner said of her first rehab. “She wasn’t going to root on all the players and become the best fan. That’s just not her way. There wasn’t time for that with her rehab. She had her future set, and with the other girls, that was the best basketball they were ever going to play, so there was a disconnect I would say, but nothing too dramatic.”
This time around, she has a role. Because of her familiarity with the injury, she can help Stanulis feel more comfortable during the rehab process. Another difference is that in Eugene, she has access to a team surgeon, team trainers and state-of-the-art facilities for her rehab — all of which aren’t available to high school players. That said, no amount of fancy equipment and trainers can make up for losing a year of play due to a second ACL tear. Petersen said the second injury led to emotional turmoil.
“Two nights before my surgery, I was just sitting there,” she said. “I had just watched practice, and I was sitting there thinking, ‘What did I do wrong? Why did this happen to me again?’ I worked so hard to get where I was, and I felt I was taking ten steps back.”
The self-pity was short lived, though, and she used the injury as motivation.
“It has actually motivated me to work harder and get stronger,” she said of the injury. “When I do come back, I’m not going to take anything for granted. I’m going to come back with a chip on my shoulder, ready to prove some things.”
One positive to come out of the situation is the friendship she and Stanulis forged through the adversity. Stanulis looked to Petersen for advice — what to expect and how to deal with the injury both emotionally and physically. The two push each other in their rehab, trying to one-up each other.
“It’s nice to have someone in the treatment room who is going through the exact same thing,” Stanulis said of the relationship. “If we see each other struggling or we are frustrated we always say, ‘What would Adrian Petersen do?’ and then we will just keep going. It’s nice to have someone to put your mind at ease and put you in your place.”
As of now, both are still in the middle of their rehab schedules. In about a month, they will begin jogging in water, and a month or so after that, they can try jogging on land.
For Petersen, she has a lot to look forward to, as she will presumably play next year on a Ducks team that has some talent and should be able to grow after the turbulent season. If Stanulis decides to use her final year of eligibility, she also will be welcomed onto the court, and the two can help provide Duck fans a season that is easier to stomach.