Abiona finds new roles while sidelined

Her team took 63 shots on Saturday, missing 46 on its way to a 10-point loss, and all Ivy Abiona could do was write it down. Circles for makes, X’s for misses on white paper with black lines recreating the markings of a basketball court.

It’s a bit of a role adjustment for Abiona, a redshirt junior who last year was second on the women’s basketball team in rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage and was to be the lone upperclassman on the floor for the Colonials this season.

“That’s my job now,” she says with a laugh when describing her shot-chart duties. “That’s my new role on the bench. Whatever they need me to do, I’m fine with it.”

A knee injury suffered this summer was initially expected only to delay the beginning of her season. In recent weeks, however, the decision was made to keep her out of action for the rest of the year, meaning one bad step ended her season before it began.

“When we started rehab, it looked like I would be back around this time,” she says. “But obviously I’m not.”

***

She didn’t hear a pop, so Abiona thought she was okay.

That’s what they say happens when you tear your ACL, so when she hurt her knee landing on another girl’s foot during a pickup game this summer, Abiona knew she might be injured but didn’t fear the worst. She iced her knee on the side while the games continued, returning to high spirits by joking around with those there, including sophomore teammate Tiana Myers.

The swelling subsided over the coming days as Abiona awaited the results of an MRI, never expecting the news she received a few days later: Her right ACL had, in fact, been torn in her pickup game tumble.

So unbelievable did Abiona find the news that she sought a second opinion, turning to another doctor for advice and praying for the best.

“I was hoping for him to say it’s not that bad or it’s like a to-your-discretion kind of thing,” she says. “It was pretty dejecting to hear that two times over.”

Abiona is no stranger to injuries resulting in a lengthy rehabilitation process that inclue a temporary derailment of her playing prospects. Two years ago, Abiona missed what would have been her sophomore season when she tore part of the patella tendon in her left knee, prompting a year-long recovery process.

“This summer it was just like, ‘Finally I can work on things and get better,'” she says. “So when I found out [it was torn] it was definitely a little disheartening and a huge blow.”

Then came the process of spreading the news. She told her parents, her roommates and her coaching staff, at which point assistant coach Katie Rokus took the reins and told the rest of the team so Abiona wouldn’t need to go through the story again and again.

“I think that was one of the top-10 most emotional times that I’ve been involved in with a player,” head coach Mike Bozeman says. “She gathered herself and that’s just a testament to her character.”

***

The stationery bike is boring – you don’t go anywhere, Abiona complains – but it’s become part of the rehab routine as the fourth-year forward tries to get her body back in gear in the wake of an injury that often keeps athletes out of action for eight months to a year.

Her movements have progressed and expanded in recent months, from walking and jogging to multidirectional squats and leg lifts, and she’s gotten to the point where she’s resumed basic basketball activities such as shooting.

There are times, Abiona says with a laugh, when she begins to feel comfortable enough that her limitations are forgotten.

“But then you’re easily reminded when you can’t go a certain distance, can’t go a certain way,” she adds.

Abiona’s recovery has been more than a physical endeavor, drawing on a support group outside her team – “Why put another thing on their minds?” she says – that includes her older brother and parents and helps her stay positive despite her struggles.

And then there is her faith, not only in Christianity and a fateful worldview, but her place in it.

“I just know that God has a plan for everyone and it might not be the plan that you want; it might just be totally the opposite,” she says. “But there’s a plan for everything.”

***

The bench is generally a place associated with sitting, but Abiona is quick to her feet. to give feedback to her young teammates or join team huddles during timeouts, evidence of a role that extends beyond keeper of the shot chart and into a sort of teammate-coach hybrid.

“When we have team meetings, she’s the first one speaking,” Bozeman says. “You can see the maturity in her when she’s speaking. Some of the other girls are talking about wishes and dreams and Ivy is talking about reality.”

Yet the reality is that Abiona’s basketball career remains on hold for the moment, the memories of last year’s strong finish helping drive her comeback efforts. The 6-foot-2 forward finished last season with a career-best 14 points and 12 rebounds in the first round of the WNIT, ending on a high note that suggested she might have been poised for a breakout year.

“That’s kind of what I live for, I guess,” she says. “I remember those days.”

With the decision having been made to keep Abiona off the court for the remainder of this season, the focus now shifts to her future. Because she did not play in any games this year, she will retain two more years of eligibility, though she says she will not decide whether to use both until after next year.

She will continue her education at GW, enrolling in the School of Public Health and Health Services next fall in what she hopes will be a step toward a career as a physician’s assistant when her days as a player end.

In the meantime, she will keep working toward rejoining her team, one step, one drill, one boring stationery bike ride at a time.

“Like Coach Bozeman said, you can’t really feel sorry for yourself,” she says. “You just have to keep going and keep getting stronger.”

“And when the time comes for me to return,” she adds, “then the time comes for me to return.”

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