A Meinert setback for a major comeback

A Meinert setback for a major comeback

Tyler Job, Sports Writer

Everything was going well for UW-Whitewater women’s basketball senior forward Andrea Meinert at the start of her junior year.

She was averaging a career-high in points (9.7 per game) and minutes (23.7), and for the first time in her career, she was the starting forward for every game.

“We knew we had a really good team,” Meinert said. “So I was looking forward to be able to contribute to a little bit of that success.”

“She was a huge contributor for us from a scoring perspective,” head coach Keri Carollo said. “But probably one of the other big aspects too was just her leadership and her voice.”

But then during one game last season against UW-Eau Claire over winter break, Meinert leaped for a rebound, came down, and landed awkwardly on her left knee. She knew the injury she had just suffered was very serious, and it would ultimately sideline her for the remainder of the season.

The UW-Whitewater training staff later confirmed that she had torn her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee, which would require a 6-9 month recovery.

“It sucked because I knew right away when I landed,” Meinert said. “You don’t really know what it feels like because you’re like ‘okay it’s gone’. It was nice that we actually went out and won that game by 30 points, so that brought a little bit of a positive note.”

“I kind of knew right when it happened,” senior guard Brooke Trewyn said. “I think we all knew that we had to just come together as a team and everyone had to step up and fill the void for her.”

Carollo said that when any player goes down, especially a starter, it’s never a welcome sight.

“It’s horrible,” Carollo said. “It paralyzes you. It definitely shocks you to the core and this horrible feeling you get in the pit of your stomach. It’s tough for everyone around her, it’s tough for her parents, and you know, her family. It takes the whole strength of the team to support her.”

And after that dreadful moment, the Warhawks were forced to be without her until the start of this season.

Trewyn and Meinert had been playing in every game together since the start of their freshman campaigns, and Trewyn noted the biggest effect lost “was the chemistry of playing with her.”

“It’s definitely tough to see that happen,” Trewyn said.

The message Carollo had for the team was, understandably, a next-man up mentality.

“Some teams figure it out a lot faster than others,” Carollo said. “I think our team last year did a really great job of understanding the significant loss and being able to rally around it.”

Despite the team’s loss, the Warhawks held it together and finished the regular season with a 22-6 overall record and a 10-4 WIAC record, which was good enough for second place in the conference.

But, the team did not stop there. With the odds stacked against them, UW-W took care of arch rival UW-Oshkosh in the WIAC tournament championship game, 65-56, and locked in an NCAA tournament appearance.

The Warhawks, however, would go on to fall in the first round of the tournament against Hope College (Mich.), 78-71, at Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Ky.

The end result might have flip-flopped if Meinert was available, but she was not.

“It’s hard when you’re sitting there (on the sidelines),” Meinert said. “With our team, there’s never really a boring game when you’re on the bench. We’re loud, we’re obnoxious, and we’re always having a good time. So, when I was on the bench, it was a little bit of an adjustment.”

Meinert noted that the toughest part of the recovery process was the length of time it took for her left knee to heal.

“My biggest concern was how I was going to come back with taking such a huge step back,” Meinert said. “And then I got the recovery point at six months, and my surgeon told me “no” and she shut me down so I couldn’t play yet. I felt ready.”

“We have the best training staff ever,” Carollo added. “We’re very lucky.”

When the academic calendar turned to September, Meinert became a senior, and she understood that this year would be her last to make any final impressions.

“I knew that we had a chance to be really good,” Meinert said. “There were parts of my junior year last year where I wouldn’t get a great start. So, it’s just getting back to where I was and knew I could still get better. I knew this team was going to be very special.”

Meinert’s perception is spot on, and the Warhawks are perhaps one of the most special seasons in program history. UW-W just recently clinched its fifth WIAC conference championship under Carollo, and it was the first conference title for both Meinert and Trewyn.

The team is currently 21-3 overall and 11-2 in the WIAC, with both WIAC and NCAA tournament play left on the schedule.

UW-W now arguably has a very good chance to go deep in the playoffs compared to recent years, something the team has not tasted since the season before both Meinert and Trewyn showed up.

“It feels good,” Meinert said. “It was relief because it was the last chance we got and we were able to take care of the conference championship, which is awesome.”

“I think it’s definitely awesome like she said to do it in your senior year,” Trewyn added. “I think that it’s kind of tough to stay level for the rest of the season just because that was such a high point of the season.”

On top of everything mentioned, Meinert herself has made her comeback story count in an incredible way. Meinert this season is averaging a career-high 9.8 points per game and has posted double-digit point totals in 14 of the team’s 24 games.

Some players who suffer from such a severe injury are never the same. But Meinert’s play this season goes to show that if you stay determined and industrious, it will be all worth it.

“It feels good,” Meinert said. “To be able to contribute and be a part of the success that we’ve had has just been as good as anyone could throw it up.”

“I knew she was going to be focused and driven,” Carollo said. “And she just adds to our team. I think that’s the one thing that’s great about this group is that they’re very selfless. They don’t care who scores or who gets all the rebounds.”

And once Meinert came back, Trewyn realized that she had one of her long-time partners-in-crime back for one last hurrah.

“Being able to play with her for one last year and going out on your senior year is awesome,” Trewyn said. “Just to have the amount of success that we’ve had is really cool, and I think we’re just excited to see where the rest of the season goes.”

Meinert throughout her entire collegiate basketball career has proven to be a consistent scorer and excellent team contributor, which would seemingly impress any coach.

But, Carollo noted that one enormous Achilles’ heel Meinert has had throughout her whole career is her conditioning. That has now completely switched and Meinert, according to Carollo, is in the best shape of her life.

“It was completely a different focus,” Carollo said. “Her motivation on the court or off the court really matured, and I think from that perspective that really was a transformation for her. It’s been fun to see her really grow as a person.”

Despite the team’s unrivaled success this year, Meinert is ready to do whatever it takes to accomplish her ultimate goal: a national championship.

“It’s just the idea of getting better every day,” Meinert said. “Like Brooke said, it’s a matter of being humble…I think putting together a complete game will be the goal for the rest of the year.”

The women’s basketball season, however, will come to an end eventually. Whether the Warhawks end up winning the WIAC tournament or the national championship or both, the team is going to have to move on from what has debatably become one of the most incredible comeback stories in UW-W women’s basketball history.

Statistically, Meinert has not taken any steps back and is now in the best physical shape of her collegiate career. She is one of the team’s three seniors who is eventually going to have to move on from what has been an astounding collegiate career.

For Carollo, she said that it is Meinert’s personality that she is going to miss the most once everything is said and done.

“For her specifically, it’s not about the game,” Carollo said. “It’s all the other things…I don’t think people realize how lucky we are as coaches because we get to be around players that are so amazing. They’re amazing people, they’re great students, so I think that’s the hardest part.”

For Trewyn, it’s the friendship with Meinert both on and off the court that will be the toughest part to handle.

“I think we’re just going to miss playing together,” Trewyn said. “We definitely try to not to talk about it or think about it because we get emotional. So it’s just being able to share the game together and these past four years have been pretty awesome.”

The Warhawks’ season, however, appears to be far from over. Whatever happens, Carollo wants to let Meinert know that despite the struggles she has faced from coming back from her injury, the whole Whitewater family is here to support her.

“She’s on a great path and I’m just proud of everything that she’s done,” Carollo said.

Whether Meinert and the Warhawks achieve their ultimate goal of winning a national championship remains to be seen, but the one thing Meinert will never forget is the closeness she has developed with the Warhawk community.

“(It’s) definitely the sense of family here,” Meinert said. “We are unbelievably close and that’s what really changed basketball for me. You know, it’s fun and it’s a great time, and I love playing and I love winning and I love all of that stuff. But, being able to enjoy being around people off the court is a huge difference…We always have fun and we’re always laughing about something.”

Meinert now has one more chance to cash-in on her ultimate goal with the WIAC tournament and NCAA tournament coming up in a matter of weeks. And if she does, she will most assuredly be having fun and laughing with her supportive teammates, coaches, family and friends about something only a handful of collegiate athletes celebrate in their career.

From being a freshman to coming back from a serious knee injury and winning a conference championship is no easy task. Achieving a national championship, though, would be the ultimate prize of gratification.

Meinert has experienced most of those. We’ll just have to wait and see if she will experience the last and most prestigious triumph.

And if she does, that would definitely top the comeback story of Andrea Meinert.