When Stephanie Fennimore arrived on Linfield’s campus as a freshman in the fall of 2007, her mission was simple: establish herself as a prominent player within the Linfield program and complete both her career and education in four years.
Nowhere in the game plan did she plan on having to overcome two serious knee injuries, only one of which was repaired by surgery.
The rocky road for Fennimore began in September of 2009 when the junior to-be tore her ACL during a pickup game in open gym. Though she missed the entire 2009-10 season after undergoing surgery and a rehabilitation program, Fennimore’s knee was still unable to hold up to the rigors of playing basketball.
In one of her last open gyms before school started this fall, Fennimore re-tore her ACL for a second time on the same knee.
“I didn’t know it was torn at the time,” recalls Fennimore. “I thought it was just swollen from playing on it. The next day we started workouts and I played on it. After the swelling didn’t go down I went to the doctor and got an MRI.”
While hearing the results were hard, Fennimore’s decision was easy.
“Now I am just playing on it,” says the senior guard with a smile.
Knowing this would be her final season of basketball regardless (she on pace to graduate in the spring with a degree in exercise science) Fennimore elected to play through the injury.
With five games already played in the 2010-11 season, Fennimore’s play hasn’t slipped a beat. Starting all five games and playing 20.8 minutes per game, Fennimore has averaged 7.2 points per game and 2.4 rebounds per game. She is doing all this while shooting a remarkable 71.4 percent from the field.
While the numbers don’t leap off the stat page, Fennimore’s contributions are better viewed by the intangibles she brings to the team.
“Her experience is a big thing that I believe helps us,” notes teammate Gretchen Owens. “She is such a smart player and it's nice to have somebody like that out on the court with you.”
As the only fourth-year player in the program, Fennimore represents the values that embody a Linfield student-athlete.
“Steph is an absolutely awesome student-athlete,” says first-year head coach Robin Potera-Haskins. “She is an exceptional individual who cares more about her team and coaches than herself. She is the ultimate team player.”
As is the case any time a player plays with an injury, there will be certain limitations and adjustments that need to be made.
After missing a year of basketball and the opportunity to compete in a five-on-five setting, not only has Fennimore needed to get back into basketball shape, but she has also needed to learn to play without as much lateral quickness due to the injury.
“The biggest difference I’ve noticed is speed,” explains Fennimore. “Defense is hardest because my lateral movement is a lot slower than it used to be. It’s hard because I am not a big scorer. Defense and outhustling people are what I’ve relied on in years past. Now it’s harder because some of that has been taken away.”
Playing on a knee that gives out twice a practice, Fennimore has been forced to grow in the mental side of the game.
“I’ve learned that you don’t have to be the faster player on the court, but if you’re the smartest player out there you can get things done just as easily,” notes Fennimore on her ability to out-think opponents.
Along with her steady play, what Fennimore has provided most is leadership. While she has filled the role well, the road back into that leadership role was not always an easy one.
“It’s difficult though because I wasn’t on the court with the girls,” says Fennimore of last season. “At first I was a little bit nervous about it because it’s sometimes hard to fit back in with the team. Luckily all the girls on the team are really supportive and open to leadership. We have a lot of good leaders on the team.”
By simply playing through an ACL injury, Fennimore has significantly impacted her team.
“Steph is such an inspiration to me,” notes Owens. “To see somebody work as hard as she did to get back to being able to play this year, and how hard she works everyday with the pain she goes through, there are honestly are no words to describe that.”
“Steph comes to practice willing to learn with a positive attitude while always encouraging her teammates,” reflects Potera-Haskins. “She puts her whole heart in everything she does and I am honored to be her coach.
The journey back from injury in a hard enough road. Playing through injury is an even harder one.
Fennimore has been forced to work though both, all while thinking of the team first. As an individual, Fennimore has grown to appreciate the game of basketball even more.
“I’ve learned not to take anything for granted,” reflects the senior from Salem. “After I got injured I don’t think I would ever miss an open gym or even conditioning. A lot of players take that stuff for granted because it’s hard but once you lose that opportunity you miss it. It puts things into perspective.”
– Eric Evenson ‘11