Julia McKenna’s dream of playing basketball for the UPEI Panthers was nearly cut short.
The fourth-year guard suffered a concussion after falling awkwardly on her head while playing in a pre-season tournament in Laval.
“You just take time off from everything,” she said.
“You don’t do schoolwork. You’re not on your phone. You’re not reading. You just kind of wait until there’s a day when you don’t have a headache.”
After missing about a month of action, she returned only to fall awkwardly again. She missed a few more games, but returned in early December.
The Charlottetown resident said it was frustrating because she couldn’t do anything to speed up the healing process.
“If you hurt a muscle, you do rehab and stretch and strengthen. With your head, it just kind of a waiting game until you’re better,” she explained.
“I could physically do everything. It was just a headache or light sensitivity keeping me from playing. The girls were all really great and really supportive and made it real easy to stay connected with the team.”
She now sports a new look on the court for support.
“I wear the headband now just in case,” she said.
It is one she purchased from a soccer company to help players heading the ball.
“The idea of the mouth guard and the headband is it spreads out the contact, so that it doesn’t rattle your brain.”
It has given her extra comfort not to worry while playing.
“It’s not the first thing on your mind when you’re going to the basket or if you fall down it’s not, ‘Is my head OK?’”
While it is not an injury most initially connect with basketball, McKenna said it’s more common than people think. She knows of at least four others in the league who have suffered a concussion this season.
The Atlantic University Sport leaves tracking the number of concussions suffered by student-athletes to each university.
McKenna first starting shooting hoops in the local Starz little league program with her cousins and neighbourhood friends.
McKenna played three seasons at Colonel Gray and played on the Canada Games soccer team. After the Games, she had to decide which sport to pursue at university.
She chose basketball and has no regrets.
“It’s been awesome,” said McKenna, who has aunts who played university ball.
“I grew up coming to all the games. Just to be able to play after watching for all those years, it was little bit of a dream come true. You see the little kids out in the stands watching and I was one of those.”
If you hurt a muscle, you do rehab and stretch and strengthen. With your head, it just kind of a waiting game until you’re better. - Julia McKenna, UPEI Panther
The captain has endured some losing seasons in the past, but is pleased to see the team turn around this year. While it hasn’t won as many games as it would have liked, the team has been competitive and is fighting for a playoff spot.
She said it would be nice to get into the post season.
“I know all the work that got put into it by myself, my teammates and our coaches.”
Her contributions aren’t easily quantified. Her stats don’t jump off a score sheet, but her impact on the team is immeasurable, those around the team say.
“She does everything for us,” guard Nakita Newman said.
“She is an amazing person. She will go out of her way to help any one. Her leadership and organization is just amazing. . . She inspires me and motivates me to be better.”
Coach Greg Gould said McKenna brings many attributes to the team.
“She’s a great leader,” he said.
“On the court, she works her butt off all the time. She handles the ball well, is a very good defender and has been a very good shooter this year. She’s given us everything we could ask for. She’s having a great senior year.”
McKenna is a biology major and business minor who will graduate this spring. She has interests in pursuing medicine and the bio-tech industry and while she has a year of basketball eligibility left, McKenna hasn’t decided on next year.
u Who – A fourth-year guard with the UPEI Panthers basketball team.
u Hometown – Charlottetown.
u Did You Know? – McKenna was an academic all-Canadian in 2011-12.
u Best Part Of Being A Panther – “The Panther community. I have 13 girls on my team that are there when you have an awesome day or when you’re a little bit down they’re there to pick you up, a great coaching staff and the staff here (at the athletic department). Everybody knows you by name. . . It’s just a real supportive, great place to play and be an athlete and a student.”
u Season Averages –
GP Min. Pts. Reb. Asts
10 14.8 3.2 0.5 0.9