By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- It was a summer and fall of frustration and pain for Emily White.
As her Amateur Athletic Union teammates on the Winchester Rising Stars played last summer, White could only watch. As her Millbrook teammates began their preseason workouts, White could not participate.
Instead, White was doing her own workouts. She was doing her own drills. White was working just as hard as, if not harder than, her teammates, but for a different cause.
White just wanted to be able to get back on the court and play again.
Last April, White was playing with the Rising Stars in the Deep South Classic at the University of North Carolina. During one of the games, White tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.
"It happened and I got off the court and I walked off," White said.
White had no idea what the injury was, but Millbrook coach Debby Sanders did. Sanders was there watching the team play, and said she had a feeling that it was an ACL when White came off the court.
Sanders immediately called Millbrook trainer Ashley Lanier and it was decided that White needed to be taken to a local hospital. In May, White had surgery on her knee, and within 24 hours she was beginning her rehab.
It wasn't easy or fun, but White knew what she had to do if she wanted to play for the Pioneers this season.
"If I had I sat around all summer, there's no way I'd be playing," White said.
During the fall, while her teammates would take Fridays off from their preseason workouts, White was still working hard.
"She'd be in here with me on Fridays doing all kinds of lateral movement and doing different exercises," Sanders said, "and in the weight room trying to get that thing strengthened."
White had to sit and watch her Millbrook teammates play in a fall league, but finally all her hard work paid off. White was able to play for a few minutes of the team's last fall league game.
When varsity practices began in November, White was still behind the rest of her teammates. And she had to learn to play with a brace on her left knee.
Once the season began, White was back with her teammates and making an impact for the Pioneers. White has played in all 25 games this season, and has been every bit as strong as she was last year.
"That kid worked her tail off. There was never a complaint," Sanders said. "She was ahead of schedule all through her checkups. That's all a tribute to her. I've never seen a kid come back that quick from that kind of injury."
White has been better than ever on the court this season. She is averaging 6.7 points per game. She is shooting 40.1 percent (63-for-157) from the field and 39.2 percent (31-for-79) from 3-point range. She leads the area in 3-pointers and is second in 3-point percentage.
She's had a strong season, despite having to adjust to wearing a brace. White said her confidence has gone up this season and it's showed in her shooting.
White is also averaging 2.0 assists and 2.3 steals per game for Millbrook this season. The steals are part of White's improvement on defense. White said she didn't always like playing defense, but now she sees it differently.
"I enjoy it because I know it pays off," White said. "And that's what you need to do to win."
White spent the first two years of high school at Sherando. As a sophomore, White started some for the Warriors, who went 9-15 that season.
Last year White transferred to Millbrook, but said it was a very easy and smooth transition. White had attended Admiral Richard E. Byrd Middle School with some of her Millbrook teammates, and it was almost like a homecoming for her.
"I loved it. I love coming into a new place," White said. "Coach Sanders and all the people were really open about having me come in. Right away everybody just welcomed me with open arms."
The Pioneers were coming off a 25-3 season, in which they advanced to the Group AA, Division 3 state semifinals. Sanders said she told White practices and preseason workouts might be a little different than what she was used to at Sherando, but White was able to handle it.
White was a starter for the Pioneers last season, and she made 17 3-pointers and shot 34.9 percent from the field. She was a valuable piece to the Pioneers winning their first state title.
"I feel like I did what I needed to do," White said. "And we won states, so what's better than that?"
White said winning the state championship is something she still thinks about all the time.
"I won't forget that ever," White said. "You won states and it's like what's next? Then you realize you were undefeated and won states -- that's a perfect season. And obviously I want to try to do it again."
Perhaps that's why she went through all the hard work and all the pain every day in the summer and fall. All the moments she wasn't on the floor with her teammates were painful, but she knew she had to keep pushing on so she could get back on the floor and play in her senior season.
One of the best moments of this season for White came when she was finally able to get the brace off in early February.
"I hated it," White said of wearing the brace. "I felt like Forrest Gump coming out of it. I just felt quicker and lighter on my feet. I could run better. It looks better. It doesn't look like a big piece of junk on my leg."
Now, as her senior season is winding down, the reality is starting to dawn on White that she doesn't have many games left. The Pioneers play Southampton on Saturday at JMU at noon in the Group AA, Division 3 state quarterfinals. Millbrook has won 47 consecutive games, but White knows at most she's only got three games left. And she knows how she wants her high school career to end.
"I'm not taking anything for granted," White said. "No one is, but especially being a senior. I want to think of every game as my last game as motivation, but I don't [it] want to be my last game.
"I want my last game to be after three games -- the state final game, and I want to win it."