Blair Schoenwald doesn’t take basketball for granted anymore.
Not after suffering ACL injuries to both knees.
“I think I used to go out and play like it was an everyday thing and then when I had the game taken away from me for basically two whole years with both injuries, it really made me have a spectacular appreciation for the game,” said Schoenwald, the Brentwood Academy senior point guard.
“I was able to see the game from a different standpoint because I was having to sit on the bench.”
Schoenwald learned how to be an off-the-court leader and overcoming the adversity made her stronger.
Her first ACL injury occurred during her eighth-grade year and the second came the summer before her sophomore season.
“They were pretty close to being back to back.” Schoenwald said. “That was really tough. It was really hard to overcome. A lot of physical therapy and trying to get back in shape after sitting out for seven months.”
Schoenwald doesn’t believe she’d be the player she is today without overcoming those injuries.
The Belmont signee averaged 10 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists for the Lady Eagles (2-1) last season. She shot 80 percent from the foul line.
Her first injury came during a Division II-AA semifinal win over Harpeth Hall in 2016.
“I stole the ball on a fast break and I was going up for a layup, and the girl was running right behind me,” Schoenwald said. “I jump stopped to let her fly by, so I could shoot the layup. Instead of her going right by, she ran right into the back of me.”
Schoenwald’s right knee buckled and she knew something bad had happened when she couldn’t get up.
Her second injury to her left knee occurred during a similar fashion in a game against Rossview in team camp.
“Same thing, on a fast break,” Schoenwald said. “This time I didn’t really jump stop. I just kind of went up, but right when I took off from the ground a girl ran right into the back of me.”
BA coach Rhonda Brown described it as a cheap shot.
A person who has ACL surgery is six times more likely to suffer a second knee injury within two years, according to an American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine study.
“They say you put so much effort and focus on one knee from recovering that you start to think about not using the other knee and working that too strong,” Schoenwald said. “I can definitely say I’m probably never going to jump stop in transition ever again, that’s for sure.”
She got a déjà vu feeling on her second injury. It felt more like shock than being upset.
“The second one kind of took a toll on me mentally because I knew what was coming ahead as far as months of physical therapy and everything,” Schoenwald said. “Just knowing that I would have to do all of that all over again. It stressed me out in the beginning.”
Schoenwald wanted to play college basketball, so that motivated her to power through physical therapy. Her hard work got her knees back to 100%.
“Besides the two scars on my knees, I don’t even feel it anymore,” Schoenwald said. “I never have issues with it. If anything, I feel stronger than I did before.”
ACL injuries are more common in female athletes partially because women’s joints have a looser range of motion than males’.
“Blair is a solid point guard and a great kid,” Rhonda Brown said. “She’s tough. I’ve had very few players come back from the injuries she had, much less play as hard as she does. She’s persevered through a lot.”
BA’s Maggie Brown, a Miss Basketball finalist who averaged 14.4 points last season, has played with Schoenwald since they were 5 years old.
“It’s just been amazing seeing her overcome that,” Brown said of the injuries. “Not once has she lost hope or anything. When she was going through all of her physical therapy, she never missed a day and always went hard.”
Brown said the BA players tried to ease her back slowly from her second injury, but Schoenwald would have none of it.
“I remember her first game back sophomore year we were all, like, Blair, be careful, take it easy,” said Brown a Lehigh signee. “She just played full speed, was hitting shots. I really learned a lot from her myself. She was good motivation for me whenever I face hard things.”
Schoenwald’s older brother, Gavin, is redshirt freshman tight end at Vanderbilt.
BA returns four starters from last year’s 25-5 team that finished second in the state.
Ravenwood transfers Jaz Harmon (Georgetown signee) and Savannah Dews are ineligible, but Jaila Lee can play this season. An athletic defender who is also productive on the offensive end, Lee missed last season due to an ACL injury.
BA and Ensworth have met in the state finals five times, including the last three. Another showdown may await in March.
“They’re loaded,” Rhonda Brown said. “They have a lot of five-star kids. They’re all getting recruited by Power Five (schools). Definitely the team to beat. They didn’t lose anybody and they’ve got two old guards in that’ll be really good.”
Schoenwald wouldn’t be surprised if BA and Ensworth meet again in the championship. BA and Ensworth are both five-time state champions.
“I think about that game from last year every day,” Schoenwald said of the 48-42 loss when Ensworth rallied from a nine-point deficit with a 16-1 run during the final 2:04. “It’s upsetting and it was a horrible feeling at the moment, but now it’s definitely used as motivation – every day, every time we lift, every time we practice, every time I even just go to the gym and shoot.
“I think about that moment and it definitely motivates me to try to go back there and hopefully win it this year, too.”