By Brandon Webb
“Anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and lateral collateral ligament” roll off the tongue of Abril Peeples as if she were a second-year medical student.
Jacksonville University, however, does not offer a medical degree.
Peeples, a redshirt sophomore guard, is just well-versed in the lexicon after bouncing back from multiple knee injuries that nearly caused her quit basketball.
The only remnant of her three-year medical odyssey is a bulky black brace she wears on her left knee. Not even that, however, could stop Peeples who scored a career high-tying 22 points to lead the sixth-seeded Dolphins (11-19) to a 62-58 upset victory over No. 3 seed Belmont in the General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Women’s Basketball Championship on Thursday at Mercer’s University Center.
“Coach (Jill) Dunn told us to give it everything we have, to not take a play or a second off, and I kept that in mind offensively and defensively the whole game,” Peeples said.
The Americus, Ga., native needed no motivation. Every moment Peeples spends on the court is validation of the struggle she has endured.
Peeples was limited to merely 10 games played over the past two seasons. During the 2009-10 campaign, Peeples required a total left knee reconstruction after tearing all three knee ligaments.
She rehabbed diligently and returned for the 2010-11 season only to tweak her ACL on Jan. 24 against Mercer on the same floor where she shined Thursday night.
“The second time, initially, I didn’t want to play basketball anymore,” Peeples said. “Coach Dunn was like ‘No, no, we’re going to get you back.’”
Peeples, who leads the Dolphins in assists (72), went back to work and rehabbed with even more fervor. Instead of returning home between semesters, she enrolled in summer school and spent 12 solid weeks getting her knee back to playing shape, losing 30 pounds in the process.
“For two years, every time I went to Coach Dunn’s office she told me ‘Don’t worry about it, we got you for three more years.’
“She told me that she kept me on this team for a reason. I really didn’t understand the reason, but now I do.”
Dunn said that’s part of the deal she makes with all of her scholar-athletes.
“Just because they have an injury we’re not going to kick them to the curb,” Dunn said. “As long as she was working hard to get back, and fighting to get back on this team, I’m going to have her on this team.
“Tonight you saw why.”
Peeples’ emotion carried her team in overcoming a nine-point halftime deficit. She scored 13 second-half points and finished 6-for-9 from beyond the 3-point line.
“We needed some points down the stretch and the girls knew she had the hot hand,” Dunn said. “We were trying to run plays toward her. Her emotion of making those baskets and getting everybody else fired up was huge.
“Again, it’s tournament play. That’s what it’s all about right now: playing as hard as you can, playing with a lot of heart and a lot of passion.”
Peeples’ passion bucket is most certainly full.
“This is my first full season of basketball since high school, so I was really emotional because I haven’t been through this,” a teary-eyed Peeples said. “It’s such an opportunity and I want to take advantage of it.”
Brandon Webb is a freelance sports writer who resides in Macon, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.