It is not uncommon for players to have bumps and bruises at this point in the season.
All it takes is one look at a Wichita State women’s basketball practice to realize this team is suffering from more than just bumps and bruises.
Kelsey Jacobs has been wearing a protective wrap to protect her left knee for months now. Michelle Price has an injury for every day of the week. Michaela Dapprich, Jamillah Bonner, and Alie Decker are all playing through an array of injuries.
This is a battered squad that enters the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament this week as the No. 2 seed in search of their second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid. Wichita State will play the winner of Thursday’s Missouri State-Southern Illinois game at 6:05 p.m. Friday at the Family Arena in St. Charles, Mo.
“In our minds, we’re healthy,” Jacobs said, laughingly. “We’re mentally healthy. But yeah, our bodies are a little banged up right now.”
Injuries are a part of the game, but they are especially critical to this team, which demands such a high level of energy and detail in coach Jody Adams’ system.
It’s not easy to play for Adams healthy. So throw in the fact the Shockers are not close to full health, and it becomes even more demanding.
“It is tough, but it shows the kind of character that Jody recruits to come here,” Jacobs said. “You’ve got to be able to push through some really tough things to play for her. You have to be a tough player to get through the grind.”
That hasn’t always been the case this season, as the injuries likely had more to do with the team’s late-season swoon then they led on.
After winning 20 straight games, Wichita State lost four of its next five, with Adams calling out the team’s toughness. She said it was a choice the players were making, and she stands by that now.
She questioned them because she knew their potential. She saw what this group was capable of in January and February. Adams never lost sight of the significance of what the players were doing.
“They are a gritty bunch,” Adams said. “Just unbelievable toughness.”
While the injuries may affected their on-court play at times, the players said it has created a bond that they have never shared in the past. Seeing each other fight through the pain and not complain once unifies a team like nothing else can.
They do it for the team’s only senior, Price, they do it for each other, and they do it for the seniors that came before them that laid the foundation.
“I’m pretty sure all of us have something wrong with us,” Dapprich said. “But we’re here for each other, playing for each other.”
And when they are playing together, like they did on the winning streak and last Sunday in a 93-56 victory over Missouri State, Wichita State looks like one of the best teams in the nation.
“That top six, I still think they’re one of the best across the United States,” Adams said. “When they’re clicking, they play some great basketball.”
If the Shockers can rekindle that type of play in St. Charles for the second straight season, then they can recover from them what was lost during their slide: a return trip to the NCAAs.
It doesn’t matter how much pain WSU has to endure, it knows the prize is worth it.
“We’re so excited because it’s like it’s right there dangling in front of us,” Jacobs said. “We can’t let anyone else take it away from us because once we get it, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Shockers get honors — Alex Harden, Bonner and Price earned All-Missouri Valley honors on Wednesday. The MVC recognized 11 All-MVC players and five honorable-mention picks. In a change from previous seasons, it did not designate a second team.
Harden, a junior guard, is a repeat All-MVC pick. She averages 16.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.3 steals for the Shockers (23-6), who shared the MVC title with Indiana State. Bonner, a junior guard, averages 12.8 points and 4.4 rebounds. Price, a senior forward, averages 12.2 points and 7.4 rebounds.
WSU placed three players on the 2000 All-MVC team, also in an era when the conference picked 10 players without designating a second team. That season, LaTeesha Hill, Keomi Johnson and Jennifer Kaczka made the All-MVC team.