TERRE HAUTE —
Rose-Hulman women’s basketball player Lauren Meadows has known for a while that she probably didn’t have a future in the WNBA.
A 5-foot-7 senior guard, she knew last fall that she didn’t need to return from two significant injuries for her final season in order to attract attention from pro scouts.
At the NCAA Division III level, that rarely happens. But Meadows, who started her college career as a freshman reserve at DePauw before transferring to Rose in 2010, was determined to come back in 2013-14 because she loves basketball.
“I couldn’t imagine not playing while still being eligible and in college,” she said.
Meadows estimated that she’s at about 85 to 90 percent of her pre-injury form, but she’s still second on the Engineers in minutes played (223) and fourth in scoring average (6.8 points per game). She’s also the most accurate free-throw shooter on the squad, connecting on 17 of 19 attempts (89.5 percent).
By now, you may be wondering: What were her injuries?
Well, the first was a torn right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) suffered during open gym in September 2011.
“I drove from the left baseline, then I went up for a layup with my right hand and right leg,” Meadows said, recalling how the injury occurred. “I landed on someone’s foot when I came back down. I heard it pop on my way down and I just fell. I was scared and not sure what was wrong. … A few days later, I got an MRI and found out what it was.”
She admitted that the lengthy rehabilitation process after her October 2011 surgery was not easy.
“It’s the most pain I’ve ever been in,” Meadows insisted. “It was really tough, not just physically but mentally. I actually gained 20 pounds during the rehab process – completely bad weight. I was sad for a while and I couldn’t do what I wanted to. … So I realized if I wanted to play again, I was going to have to lose a lot of weight.”
Keeping her promise to herself, she shed 30 pounds before school ended the next summer. Then she lost 20 more pounds over the summer of 2012.
“I was in the best shape of my life,” Meadows said proudly.
So Meadows started the first eight games of the 2012-13 season and she was pleased with how she played.
“I was starting to progress in my role with the team and being really aggressive,” she said.
Coming off a 23-point performance in an 80-74 victory over Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Meadows was playing a home game against Hanover when a different injury derailed her season.
“I was going up for a spin move around the free-throw line and I shot a layup on the left side of the basket,” she mentioned. “I landed unevenly on my right leg. … and all the rest of my weight went to my left leg. It just buckled and I went down to the ground, screaming loudly.”
An MRI revealed she had two bone bruises in her left knee. That initially put her out for two or three weeks, then she tried to practice again. But she went down again during a defensive drill.
After that second fall, Meadows saw the doctor again and got a second MRI.
It revealed that her bone bruises were healing, but she had a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL) in her left knee.
She was able to return to action late in the season, but she acknowledged that she was a shell of her old self.
“I was really tentative,” Meadows explained.
“It was just a huge mess. I thought I was OK to come back, but I fell again and I fell again. It was a real guessing game.”
So the summer of 2013 turned into another rehab process for Meadows.
“I tried to stay away from jumping,” she noted. “I decided I was just going to lift and get as strong as I could. So I lifted all summer and got my knee really strong for when I came back [in the fall of 2013].”
Entering preseason practices, Meadows thought her right knee (2011 ACL tear) was fine, but she wasn’t so sure about her left knee (2012 bone bruises and MCL sprain).
“I was unsure if I would ever be able to play competitively,” she admitted. “I was scared I would be too tentative to even be competitive. It was mostly a mental thing for me at the very beginning.”
After participating in a few scrimmages and a few games, Meadows gradually regained confidence in her ability to play aggressively.
“I had played a couple times in the preseason and things went OK,” she assessed. “I was still tentative, though. Then something clicked. I don’t know what it was, but I started going harder and faster and I was able to do the things I could before.”
“She worked extremely hard over the summer, but she was scared she wouldn’t be able to perform,” Rose-Hulman women’s coach Jon Prevo pointed out. “She’s kinda now getting more confident and comfortable playing without constantly thinking about further damaging the knee. … She’s a much better player now.”
“I’m getting there,” Meadows added. “It took a while for me to gain some confidence. These last couple days in practice, I’ve been a lot more aggressive. I always had been really aggressive before in trying to get to the basket.”
So far, Meadows has started four out of 11 games in helping the Engineers compile records of 4-7 overall and 2-2 in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC). This past Saturday, Rose defeated Bluffton 60-57 in Hulbert Arena to stay in the middle of the HCAC pack.
Rose-Hulman will need to finish among the top six teams to advance to the HCAC tournament.
“We need to cut down on our turnovers,” Meadows emphasized. “We’ve got to focus on the little details that we have been struggling to do in the first part of the season. … We have a great chance of doing well in our conference this season. We just have to buckle down and get it done.”
“We’re very young and somewhat inexperienced,” Prevo chimed in. “We’ve got 15 young ladies who are healthy to play now. They’re really starting to understand their roles and understand the college game. I have six freshmen who are playing quite a bit. The mix of them with the returning players is going well. But we’re still kinda trying to find our identity. … We’re still kind of a work in progress.”
Prevo also mentioned that Meadows’ lack of starts compared to early last season is not an indication of any lack of confidence in her abilities.
“I have a little bit of a luxury that I haven’t had in years past because I have better numbers now,” he said in reference to his fluctuating starting lineups.
“Lauren’s actually playing more minutes now [as a reserve] than she was as a starter. She has become more and more aggressive in taking the ball to the basket.”
Meadows, an Indianapolis resident and a biomedical-engineering major who plans to start work on a master’s degree in engineering management at Rose-Hulman later this year, is one of three seniors on the Engineers’ roster. Others are Kelsey Ploof and Jaci Dalton.
Ploof, a 6-0 forward, is averaging 7.5 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds per contest.
“Kelsey, over her four-year career here, has really developed and gotten better each year,” Prevo stressed. “It says a lot about her determination. She has fought through some injuries too. She had some back issues in high school and they popped again here. … She understands what she needs to do to put this team in position to have success.”
Prevo said Ploof will get her degree in mechanical engineering at the end of this academic quarter in late February and she’s already accepted a job offer with Frito-Lay in Denver.
“That itself is quite an achievement,” he noted. “That tells you how she’s able to manage her time.”
Rose’s next game will be Wednesday at Earlham.
TERRE HAUTE —
Rose-Hulman women’s basketball player Lauren Meadows has known for a while that she probably didn’t have a future in the WNBA.
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