ACL tears motivate women’s basketball freshman to excel


Photo courtesy of Matthew Vern Bliss.

Matt Lofgren

Her doctors called her the “bionic woman” after two ACL tears in her right knee and one in her left, but freshman Melanie Stubbs is striving to prove she has what it takes to play at the college level.

Standing around shooting free throws after women’s basketball practice, the deep scars on Stubbs’ knees are a reminder that to get to this point in her career, she had to overcome mental and physical doubts.

“It takes determination, and I put in the determination to keep playing and keep working hard to get back to where I was before,” Stubbs said. “That’s definitely a hard thing to do, and it definitely takes a mental toll on you, but you have to just overcome it.”

Back in her freshman year of high school is when her problems first began. Partially tearing her ACL in her right leg in a game, Stubbs sat out the rest of the game. The next day at practice, she fully tore it.

Stubbs worked hard to rehab her knee. Three months later, she was sidelined again with the same injury in the same knee.

Surviving her sophomore season, Stubbs had another ACL tear, but in her left knee, that she blames on “over-compensating” on after the two injuries in her right knee.

But no one really knows the troubles that Stubbs has been through quite like her own coach. Women’s coach Bob Lindsay is no stranger to ACL tears, who has had a few himself.

“It was a situation that having had a few of those myself, I kind of related to her a little bit more than somebody else might,” Lindsay said. “I thought that, just like a lot of other kids, when they go through ACL surgery, they work really hard at it, they come back close to 100 percent. So I felt the same thing coming from her.”

Knowing her role on the team, no one knows the hard work that Stubbs has put in quite like her roommate and teammate Josie Hull.

“First thought, I was just shocked and couldn’t believe it,” Hull said. “I give her so much respect and so much credit because I don’t think anybody in their right mind would tear that many ACLs and come back. It doesn’t even seem like it’s affecting her. She’s quick, she’s very athletic and is one of the most athletic girls on the team.”

Once she came to Kent, Stubbs’ biggest supporter became Lindsay, who said he knew that with her talent and determination, she can continue to enjoy a “significant amount of playing time.”

“It’s not the ideal situation, let’s put it that way, but generally speaking with ACL surgeries, usually those people work so hard on their leg strength during rehab that their leg strength is actually better than before,” Lindsay said. “That’s what I felt with her. She needed to rehab and do the stuff the right way.”

But that was all in the past and Stubbs focused exclusively on her senior year and coming back with some noise. In her final year of high school ball, Stubbs was named to Hosier Basketball Magazine’s top 100 list as well as all-conference and even first-team Academic All-State to top off the list.

Stubbs played so well she grabbed the attention of the Kent State coaching staff, despite all of her knee issues. Now that she is here, Hull says Stubbs “shows no fear.”

“The thing is, I think that most people (who) tear their ACL, they would be scared that it would happen again,” Hull says. “She shows no fear, she goes in there against 6-foot girls and pads it up.”

Despite not knowing what’s ahead for her, Stubbs is focusing on her game and not allowing past injuries to plague her now.

“It’s not likely to happen again, but it is possible,” Stubbs said. “I try not to think about it because I think that’s what lead to the other one, just thinking about it and over-compensating on one leg.”

So far this season, Stubbs has shown no signs of slowing down and had some impressive performances showcasing her skill. In January against Bowling Green, Stubbs dropped a career-high 12 points in a losing effort to the Falcons.

Personal accomplishments only go so far for Stubbs, as she is focused with the rest of her team on improving week-by-week in order to make it to the Mid-American Conference tournament fast approaching in March.

“I see us improving,” Stubbs said. “I mean, we can only go in one direction and we started off slow, but I think that’s from having young players. I can see us getting better as the season progresses and comes to an end. Then next year just coming out ready with experience under our belts.”

Right now, Stubbs is in the same place as several other freshman on the team with fighting for minutes and working hard in practice.

“I think she’s in a stage just like a lot of other freshmen are,” Lindsay said. “If they were playing for other teams that had a lot of veteran players, they probably wouldn’t be playing very much, and most of their minutes would be in practice and trying to learn that way. She’s been fortunate in so much that she’s had a significant amount of playing time as a freshman, more so than a lot of other do, and she’s been able to learn on the job a little bit more than others do.”

The Flashes return home for the final two games of the regular season with rival Akron coming to the M.A.C. Center for a 2 p.m. tipoff to avenge a 68-62 loss Jan. 14.

Contact Matt Lofgren at [email protected] and @MLofgrenDKS.