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Recent rash of ACL injuries has Geneva girls hoops eyeing solutions

Geneva’s Sidney Santos grabs a rebound Thursday during a summer league game against St. Charles East at Glenbard South High School.
Geneva’s Sidney Santos grabs a rebound Thursday during a summer league game against St. Charles East at Glenbard South High School.

A telling anagram likely exists by rearranging the 24 letters that form “anterior cruciate ligament.”

Because she prefers not to let her basketball career hinge completely on that joint, Geneva junior Sidney Santos personifies a partial scramble, remaining c-a-l-m through it all.

A dubious injury history precedes Santos into what she’s confident will be her debut high school season. She tore her right ACL on the first day of practice in November 2010, then aggravated the injury this past summer.

Santos hears enough about the past, and there are times it rattles her.

Then she steps on the court, and aggravation becomes motivation.

“Once you’re in the moment and you’re playing, you don’t really think about it,” Santos said. “After games, my parents tell me to ice and stretch and do things to prevent it, but once you’re in the game, it’s never something you think about.”

Geneva coaches and trainers have turned proactive about ACL awareness given the program’s spate of injuries in the past 19 months. In addition to Sidney Santos’ troubles, older sister Ashley suffered an ACL tear in February that ended her senior season.

This month, in a Glenbard South summer league game, projected senior reserve Erin Kozlow tore her ACL, too.

Recently, the school’s training staff took preventive measures by observing certain aspects of players’ jumping and landing via videotape analysis.

While there is not necessarily a right way to come to the ground, the goal is to curtail or eliminate any twisting force that might impact the knee.

Vikings coach Sarah Meadows has stressed an added emphasis on stretching as trainers show players different exercises to train knee muscles. Keeping a wider base upon landing – something that should not be a problem for Geneva’s emerging crop of post players, including the 6-foot-1 Santos – is crucial, too.

“Nothing is going to 100 percent prevent an ACL tear, but it will give them an opportunity to prevent it,” Geneva trainer Bill Durand said.

After discussing matters with her family, Santos elected to ease into a busy summer schedule once doctors cleared her for game activity in April. She also is playing for the AAU Illinois Hustle, joining senior Sami Pawlak, the reigning Kane County Chronicle Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

The extra minutes with Pawlak only have heightened Santos’ excitement. Both players quickly discovered their penchant for creating mismatches, as Pawlak and Santos each possess an outside touch to complement their inside games.

Outwardly, Santos served mostly as a bookend on the Vikings’ bench and a moving prop in pregame introductions last season. At practice and in rehab, however, she still hoisted her share of set shots while honing other ballwork.

“We play so well together, Sami and I,” Santos said. “We’re both able to do the high-low game, and either one of us can shoot up at the elbow or post up. It works out really well.”

Santos is exploring a return to play for the Puerto Rican national team at the biennial FIBA Americas U18 Championships this summer. She and Ashley, a Marquette recruit, were the youngest members of the team during the 2010 tournament. The girls’ father, Joe, played professionally in Puerto Rico in the 1980s.

Sidney Santos said Ashley is expected to be cleared for additional running next week and for full basketball activity by the end of the summer. Ashley Santos is set to leave for Marquette at month’s end.

Geneva departed Friday for its annual Purdue team camp, where it will look to defend last season’s title. With a rejuvenated Santos in tow, the perennial powerhouse Vikings are eager to remain sharp – and healthy.

“Sid’s playing hard, she’s playing aggressively,” Meadows said. “Visually – I don’t know about mentally – but visually, when you see her play, I don’t think she’s playing soft on that knee. She’s going hard to the basket, she’s finishing and she’s looking strong.”

Though Meadows consciously asks Santos blanket questions such as “How are you doing?” rather than “How’s the knee?”, she need not worry about any Santos head games.

Santos knows what happened in 2010 and 2011, but she’s also sure of something else.

She’s playing competitively and she’s playing now. That’s all Santos is focused on.

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