Girls basketball: Chiawana's Loving has had a long road back to the court

February 14, 2013 

When the Chiawana High girls basketball team takes to the floor tonight, a familiar face will be wearing the white and blue.

Senior Danielle Loving will suit up for the second time this season, but tonight she is actually cleared to play.

The Riverhawks’ guard partially tore her Achilles’ tendon during the team’s second practice of the season, but has made a quick recovery and has been cleared to play against Mead at 7 p.m. today in Pasco.

“Whatever happens, happens,” she said. “If I don’t play, I will be happy. If I do play, I will be happy.”

Loving was far from happy in November when she planted her foot and fell to the gymnasium floor during the team’s second practice.

Her first thought — and that of her teammates — was that she had hurt her ankle.

She stood back up and attempted to run only to fall back to the floor.

“Once it happened, I sort of panicked,” she said. “I started thinking of the worst case scenarios. I was kind of thinking of all the hard work we were putting in at the time, and, ‘I hope this doesn’t end this quick.’ “

She was helped into the training room where assistant coach and trainer Brooke Robbert quickly identified the problem as an Achilles’ injury.

A trip to the family doctor the next day confirmed everyone’s worst fears — an injury that would likely cost her the season.

“It was pretty devastating,” said Karen Loving, Danielle’s mom. “It was like a punch in the stomach. She took it pretty bad. We encouraged her and prayed with her, but it was a tough time for her. So many AAU teams and games and looking forward to your senior year, looking forward to playing.”

It was also tough on her team.

The 5-foot-10 point guard has been on varsity her entire high school career, and was the team’s best rebounder. She left some very big shoes to fill.

“We kind of all were hoping and praying that it was an ankle sprain,” fellow senior Bianca Gonzales said. “When we found out, the whole team started crying. It took us a while to get used to not having her on the court.”

The Riverhawks eventually did find replacements, moving Gonzales — a shooting guard — to point guard, as well as getting big minutes from sophomore Molly Sullivan and senior Bailey Cartwright to help with rebounding.

Through it all, Loving still went to every practice and was at every game.

“When it first happened, we were all emotional,” Loving said. “And in my mind I had to make a decision right then and there, that you have to be strong. Not only for yourself, but for your team as well.

“I put the tears behind me. We have to overcome this now. We don’t have time to mope around. We have the whole season ahead of us.”

Away went the tears, and out came Loving’s smile. Quite the jokester, she tried to keep things light on the bench when needed as well as the team’s biggest cheerleader.

“I told her I’m trying to get her first team all-water girl,” Davis deadpanned. “She has been phenomenal at getting the water bottles to us and making sure they are ready. When other girls got hurt, she was great taking them under her wing and making sure they got water too.”

What is no joke, though, has been Loving’s effect on a team she was supposed to captain. One that figured to be in the hunt for the inaugural Mid-Columbia Conference title.

But led by Gonzales and junior Delaney Hodgins, the Riverhawks have persevered, winning the regular season and district titles.

“I’m so proud of them,” Loving said. “We are way better than people thought we are. To be able to watch our team grow like that is amazing.”

And the most amazing thing of all would be Loving stepping foot on the court tonight, and not just for warmups.

“If Danielle can get back onto the court at any time this season, that has to be marked up as one of my favorite moments coaching girls basketball,” Davis said. “The time she’s put in ... I’ve been with her for four years, and it’s been a long road with her and Bianca. It would definitely be one of my favorite moments of coaching.”

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