VERSAILLES — The braces on the knees of Olivia Schlater and Chloe Warvel are a reminder each game of the challenges Versailles has overcome to make the state final four.
One year ago both Schlater and Warvel were recovering from torn anterior cruciate ligaments in their knees. They entered the 2012-13 basketball season as the Lady Tigers’ top two point guards but missed the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament because of their injuries.
Now they’re both healthy, along with several other teammates who battled through injuries this season, to help the Versailles girls basketball team reach the state tournament in Columbus.
“I just feel that these girls have really come together as a team and made it a big challenge for them,” Versailles coach Jacki Stonebraker said. “You didn’t know if it was going to happen in the middle of the season when we had so many injuries. As they came together towards the end of the season and we started playing a lot better as a team and we started getting all our players back, it seemed as if this goal was in sight.”
Of the 15 girls on Versailles’ roster, 12 of whom often see playing time at the varsity level, only five have played in all 26 of the team’s games — Lauren Bruns, Emily Harman, Rachel Kremer, Kayla McEldowney and Taylor Winner.
“Somewhere throughout the year somebody’s been hurt it seems like,” Stonebraker said. “But they’ve battled through, and we’ve had people step up in their place in order to win those battles.”
While about half the team has been sidelined with an injury at some point this season, none have had the tribulations of Warvel.
Prior to the start of the 2012-13 season, Stonebraker said she didn’t know which girls would start with the exception of Warvel at point guard. However, before her season even had a chance to begin it ended with a torn ACL.
After missing her entire junior season, Warvel rehabbed and made it back for the cross country season this past fall. She appeared to be ready to go for her senior season of basketball but tore the meniscus in her knee in the second practice of the year, forcing her to the sideline again.
“It’s devastating,” Stonebraker said. “Chloe’s last name is basketball. When you think of Chloe Warvel, you think basketball. It’s a devastating thing that happened to her. She never gave up. She kept fighting through, and that tells you what type of kid she is. She’s a hard worker, and she’s never going to let up.”
After about three months on the bench, missing almost the entire regular season, Warvel was cleared to play and got back on the court.
“That was the best news I heard when (the doctor) said I could get back on the court,” Warvel said. “It had been my goal to try to get back by the end of the season, and these girls have done a good job this season to make it to postseason so I’m just blessed to be back playing with them.”
Schlater, who tore her ACL late in the regular season last year, made it back for volleyball and won a state championship with the Lady Tigers. She has played in 24 of Versailles’ 26 basketball games this season.
“I think that helped her, get back on to a court and move sideways to strengthen her a little bit before she went to basketball,” Stonebraker said of Schlater’s contributions to the state championship volleyball team. “She was a little tentative at the beginning of the season, but now she’s going to lay it all out there.”
Both Schlater and Warvel said the support of their teammates helped them through the the healing process.
“It’s tough, but the team’s always there to push you and help you,” Schlater said. “They know whenever you need that extra support, and they’ll be there for you.”
While it’s been tough to deal with all the injuries, it has helped make Versailles a stronger team, Stonebraker said. Instead of relying on one or two point guards, all of the guards on the team share the ball handling responsibilities to make the Tigers deeper and stronger.
“We filled the holes pretty well by playing as a team and bringing the ball up the court as a team,” Stonebraker said. “When you lose a couple point guards you struggle sometimes to handle the pressure, but I feel like all our guards do a nice job handling pressure and bringing the ball up the court. We don’t rely just on one. And once we have them back, now I feel like all the other guards are that much better ball handlers, and we can rely on them as well.”