Standing tall again

Joppatowne senior Arielle Townes returns better than ever after losing last season to a major knee injury

Girls basketball

January 07, 2007|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special To The Sun

Joppatowne guard Arielle Townes dribbled slowly toward the top of the key and stopped. In one quick motion, the senior subtly looked left while passing to the right.

The move, executed during the Mariners' game against Severna Park last month, was so fluid and seemingly effortless that it nearly faked out her teammate.

A few minutes later, Townes looked right while passing left - and nearly faked out another teammate.

Townes routinely makes plays like that. The 5-foot-9 senior can play all five positions, Joppatowne coach Michael Harris said, and she leads Joppatowne in scoring, averaging 18.5 points per game.

Townes' performance is even more impressive considering she missed all of last season recovering from knee surgery.

Townes has been on the varsity since her freshman year and was one of the county's top players her first two seasons. She has come back strong this season, scoring in double figures in each game and helping Joppatowne to a 5-1 start.

"I'm excited for her because she loves the game, and it hurt her a lot to not be able to play," said Harris, whose team went 16-6 last season. "It's exciting for me to see Arielle back doing something she loves. That's the big part."

Townes said she is nearly back to where she was before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in her left knee during the summer of 2005 while playing Amateur Athletic Union basketball. Doctors first thought it was a sprain, but Townes eventually had surgery in October 2005.

She worked hard after the surgery, having what Harris called "an amazing rehabilitation." The Mariners made it to the regional semifinals without her last year, and Harris and Townes said the guard was a week or two away from being ready at season's end.

Townes worked through rehabilitation three times a week. She began playing AAU ball again a few weeks after the high school season ended and competed throughout the spring and summer. She was ready to go when the Mariners started practice in November.

"It was good to have her back," Joppatowne guard Sasha Matthew said. "It takes a lot of pressure off the rest of the team because she's usually [a] high scorer."

Townes was part of a group that helped turn Joppatowne into a winning program three years ago. She came in along with Matthew and Ashley Marshall in 2003-2004 after the Mariners had gone 1-20 the previous season.

The Mariners improved to 12-12 during the three players' first year and went 19-5 the following season, losing in a regional final to New Town.

Townes was difficult to replace last year, but Harris said other players such as Matthew, who is a close friend of Townes', grew and helped Joppatowne keep winning.

Townes remained a major part of last year's team. She came to games and practices, working with her teammates and cheering them on. She missed time for rehabilitation and said sitting and watching for a season proved beneficial.

"It wasn't as bad as people think," Townes said. "I was still part of the team. It was nice to be able to watch them play and win games."

Townes also said it made her a better player. She has been playing basketball since she was 7 or 8, and sitting on the bench forced her to see things from a different perspective.

"It was a different way of seeing things," Townes said. "I was able to see things more. My eyes are more open now, and I can see the whole floor. I can see all my players instead of half of them."

Townes, who doesn't wear a knee brace during games, said she had fears when the season began.

"At first, I was nervous because I didn't want to hurt it again," Townes said. "But I just thought about other things, and my teammates talked me through it."

The Mariners had little trouble in her return to the court, rolling to a 77-25 victory over Havre de Grace in the season opener on Dec. 8. Townes, who finished the game with 19 points, said she needed much of the first half to get through her nervousness.

Matthew tried to help her relax, using humor when Townes got angry at herself for missing some layups.

"I just told her to dunk it the next time," Matthew said with a laugh.

Harris has moved Townes from her natural position of point guard this season, letting Matthew stay there after she played so well last winter. For now, he is trying to get Townes to feel comfortable again.

"She seems to be getting more and more confident," Harris said. "She's gotten knocked down to the floor pretty hard and it didn't shake her. She looks like the old Arielle, but bigger and stronger and faster."

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