Michaela Loebel had no shortage of places to turn for empathy – not just sympathy – in the aftermath of her torn ACL.
The Geneva junior basketball and soccer standout tore her right ACL during the Vikings girls basketball team’s fourth game of the season in November, depriving Geneva of one of the most athletic guards in the Upstate Eight Conference.
Unfortunately, it was a familiar plight for many in Loebel’s inner circle.
Loebel’s older sister, former Geneva soccer standout Alexa Loebel, also tore an ACL during her high school years.
And Geneva girls basketball probably has been the hardest hit program in the area on the ACL front in recent years. Between Loebel and sisters Ashley and Sidney Santos, three of the program’s marquee players have suffered torn ACLs during the past two and a half seasons – twice in the case of Sidney Santos. Vikings reserve Erin Kozlow is nearing a comeback from her own ACL tear.
“It’s definitely mind-blowing but it’s also kind of bringing more awareness to it, which I think is good,” Loebel said. “Athletico is actually doing a presentation on ACL injuries and how to prevent that, which I think is great, because think of all of the injuries Geneva has had. It shows people there’s a way to [try and prevent it]. We need to try harder to prevent ACL injuries. It’s becoming such a common thing.”
Loebel had surgery in mid-December and is undergoing physical therapy twice a week. She’s targeting a summer return to sports participation, meaning the injury will wipe out her junior soccer season in addition to basketball.
That’s cause for plenty of angst – hence the value of her support network. Loebel said Sidney Santos, a fellow junior, has been especially helpful as a sounding board.
“We actually joke about it,” Loebel said. “It’s funny to joke about and not get too upset about it because if you get upset about it, it’s going to be a long six months.”
The Vikings’ basketball coaching staff has given Loebel various assignments to keep her engaged, including helping orchestrate the team’s practice workouts.
Naturally, Geneva would prefer Loebel be suited up as the ball-hawking, fleet-footed catalyst of the Vikings’ uptempo attack. Her loss looms large for a Geneva team that entered the season with realistic downstate ambitions.
After some time to retool, Geneva coach Sarah Meadows opted to move 6-foot center Sidney Santos to point guard, the most substantial of the team’s lineup shifts necessitated by losing Loebel.
The Vikings have managed a respectable season despite’s Loebel’s absence – they enter the week 12-9 overall and one game behind first-place Streamwood in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division – but it’s hard to avoid wondering where Geneva would be with Loebel in the mix.
Loebel, though, said that although she misses being on the floor, she’s been impressed by what she’s seen from her teammates, especially from Sidney Santos filling her shoes at the point.
“I would have never thought that,” Loebel said. “Even though I always knew she could dribble and shoot – she had qualities a point guard could have, and a post … but I would have never thought she’d be our point guard, which she’s awesome at, but it’s still crazy to think about.”
Loebel is talented enough to command college recruiting interest in both of her sports, though missing her junior year is an untimely setback. She hopes to be able to attend various college camps this summer, which could help crystallize which sport she’ll be best suited to compete in collegiately.
For now, Loebel remains open-minded. She still flip-flops about which sport she prefers, depending on which is in season.
Loebel will remain in basketball mode for at least one more month, hoping her teammates can continue to lift her spirits. She tries to do the same in return, regularly losing her voice while rooting the Vikings on from the bench.
“With or without me, they’re still an amazing, hard-working team,” Loebel said.
“When my team’s doing great, I’m doing great,” she added. “I love seeing them playing to their best. It just gets me so excited. Even though I’m not playing, I love seeing them perform so well. Seeing good basketball, it’s just fun to watch.”
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.