|UT-Dallas athletics file photo
By Brian Lester
Madison Steele reminds her younger Texas-Dallas teammates all of the time to make every game count. You just never know when the rug might be pulled out from under a promising basketball career.
Sometimes words like that go in one ear and out the other. Athletes, really humans in general, tend to think they are invincible, that no amount of adversity will knock them down.
Steele’s words carry weight. The fifth-year forward knows what it’s like to have the game she loves taken away from her because of a devastating injury.
“I tell the younger players little things like points and playing time don’t matter,” Steele said. “What matters is if you are having fun and learning from your mistakes, and appreciating every game you get to play in because you don’t know when it’s going to be your last one.”
An ASC tournament opener against Howard Payne on Feb. 25, 2016 could have very well been Steele’s last game. The Comets lost 80-73. Steele finished with only eight points. She had no idea the following season would end so soon.
“The first week of practice I completely ruptured my left Achilles, which doesn’t happen often. There is a small chance it happens to someone under 35, so that was traumatizing,” Steele said. “It kept me out the entire year.”
With it being her senior season, she contemplated not playing basketball again. She wondered if the long road to recovery would even be worth it for one more season of college hoops.
“I didn’t think I was going to play again. I took it day by day, and even my coach didn’t know if I was going to come back until August when school started again,” Steele said. “I had job opportunities I could have taken. I wasn’t sure what to do. I eventually decided that I would regret it if I didn’t come back. So I gave it another chance.”
Her head coach, Polly Thomason, hoped Steele would come back but not knowing if she would at the time, she treated the 2016-17 season as if it would be Steele’s last.
“We gave her every opportunity to have a voice and she acted like a coach on the bench,” Thomason said. “She would help out the post players, travel with us, and we even honored her on senior day. We treated her as if she was playing on the team.”
Steele felt like she was part of the team, but that didn’t mean it was easy sitting out.
“A lot of days it was hard for her because she wanted to be out there with her senior class,” Thomason said. “We made sure we kept her in the loop. She had so much positive energy and we definitely needed her for that role.”
Steele said it was easier to deal with the injury because her team succeeded. The Comets went 25-4, won the ASC tournament and played in the NCAA Tournament. Had they struggled, she would have felt as if perhaps she could have made a difference had she been able to play.
Fast forward to Nov. 15, 2017, the date of the first game of the regular season. Steele is ready to go. She plays 15 minutes, scores two points and grabs a rebound in the Comets’ 67-47 win over Austin.
It’s not the start she dreamed of, but it’s a start nonetheless. Since then, she has scored in double figures seven times and is averaging 7.7 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, helping the Comets fashion a 20-3 record.
“The hardest thing was realizing that I couldn’t do the same things I used to do. My game has changed a lot,” Steele said. “I used to be a lot quicker. I now have to play smarter.”
Thomason said Steele was probably around 50 percent when she returned and that even now she isn’t at 100 percent.
But she’s been a key contributor to a team in contention for another conference championship and return to the NCAA tourney, the Comets sitting at 20-3 overall and winners of their last six games, and that counts for something.
“The biggest question mark for us going into the season was our experience level. We didn’t have a lot of experience coming back and we weren’t sure Madison would return,” Thomason said. “Having her back, having someone who has been around the program and has played on championship teams, and who knows what it takes to be successful on and off the court, is invaluable.”
Steele has been asked by teammates which team during her college career has been her favorite. She doesn’t hesitate when she says it’s this one. She loves the way the team gets along and the work ethic it puts on display both in practice and in games.
Only two games remain in the regular season, including her second senior day on Saturday, and it will be an emotional day. The last time she experienced a senior day, she wasn’t sure what the future held as far as basketball was concerned.
She knows now that this is it and plans to make the most of those final moments.
“This really is my last season and I don’t get to come back and play next year,” Steele said. “I just want to leave everything I have out there, to not have any regrets and play as hard as I can.”
Colonels clinch title
Tucker Sine picked a great day to play his best game, scoring a season-high 26 points in Centre’s 70-67 win over Oglethorpe Sunday. The victory clinches the SAA title for the Colonels.
It didn’t come easy. Centre was forced to hold off the Stormy Petrels after they nearly erased a 20-point deficit in the second half. Sine led the charge, scoring 20 of his points in the final 20 minutes of action.
Sine hit on eight of his 15 attempts from the field, fueling the performance with five 3-pointers and helping Centre improve to 16-7 overall and 11-2 in the conference.
Big day for the Stormy Petrels
For the first time in program history, Oglethorpe is the outright regular-season champion of the SAA in women’s basketball.
Forcing 21 turnovers and holding the Colonels to 32.4 percent shooting from the field, Oglethorpe clinched the title with a 65-52 win. It’s the Stormy Petrels’ second win in a row and 11th in their last 13 games. They have lost just twice since 2018 began.
Taylor Dodson sparked Oglethorpe to the win, scoring 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting and grabbing six rebounds. The sophomore is averaging 7.8 points per game and has come up with 29 steals, 16 more than she had all of last season.
Seven and counting for the Scots
Covenant is playing its best basketball at the right time. The Scots stretched their hot streak to seven with a 76-64 win over Ferrum on Saturday in USA South play.
The Scots are 15-8 overall and 10-5 in the conference. Berto Dryden led the way with 21 points and is eight points shy of 1,000 for his career.
Dryden connected on eight of his 14 attempts from the field. Five of those shots were from 3-point range. He also grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists.
The Scots are in second place in the West Division of the conference and are already assured of a spot in the conference tournament.
They have won 47 games over the last three seasons thanks in large part to Dryden, who is averaging 15.2 points per game. Dryden has knocked down 57 3-pointers.
Woolfolk steps up for Pirates
Cecily Woolfolk recorded a double-double in Southwestern’s 56-40 SCAC win over Centenary (La.) on Saturday.
The double-double is the fifth of the year for Woolfolk, who finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, helping the Pirates improve to 11-13 overall. Southwestern is 7-6 in the conference.
The win snaps a two-game losing streak for the Pirates.
Woolfolk has been an impact player for the Pirates and is the only player on the team with a scoring average in double figures, averaging a team-best 11.5 points per outing. She is grabbing 7.0 rebounds per game has come up with 16 steals and 14 blocks as well.
Noe cashes in on senior day
Daniel Noe didn’t let an opportunity slip away on senior day, scoring four of Randolph-Macon’s final six points in a 63-59 win over Emory & Henry.
Noe also came through with a key defensive stop and rebound in the final 10 seconds of a pivotal ODAC showdown. He finished with eight points and helped the Yellow Jackets limit the Wasps to their lowest point total of the year.
Noe is averaging 11 points per outing and has made 20 or more 3-pointers in each of the last three seasons, including 29 this season.