LINCOLN — Right after Thanksgiving break last year, Adrianna Maurer hurt her back in practice. The Nebraska women's basketball center thought little of it; the worst injury she'd ever had was a broken nose. So she asked a trainer before the next practice to work out the kinks. Her back hurt even worse.
The 6-foot-3 Maurer didn't yet know that two herniated, bulging discs pressed on her nerve, that the clock on her sophomore season was ticking, that she'd miss the whole Big Ten season, depriving the Huskers of a useful front court player who averaged 4.2 points and 3.5 rebounds in 10 games.
Maurer just knew what it felt like. Shock waves of pain. Bouts of numbness.
“Worst thing ever,” Maurer said. “Just horrible. I couldn't practice anymore. I could barely walk. I lost feeling in my left calf.”
Sometimes, the nutrition and dietetics double major stood for the entire three-hour chemistry lab. In other classes, she was too embarrassed to stand. And for a couple weeks, she tried to play through the pain. She received two epidural shots and lots of encouragement: You'll get better.
But Maurer didn't. She played her last game Dec. 8. She got invasive back surgery Jan. 17.
“They had to saw through one of my vertebrae to get to the discs,” Maurer said. “But the worst part was all the muscle they had to cut through.”
Two days after that, Maurer got mononucleosis. Her parents, Mark and Michelle, moved into her apartment, Michelle sleeping in Adrianna's bed, Mark in an inflatable bed on the floor. They stayed two weeks.
Adrianna's first days of rehab looked like this: Walk to the front door. Then: Walk around the block for 20 minutes. Then: Walk 15 minutes to the Devaney Sports Center and back home. Maurer listened to road games on the radio as NU's speed and pressure defense caught slower Big Ten teams off guard.
But when the Huskers reached the NCAA tournament, they had no defense for Kansas freshman center Chelsea Gardner, who scored 15 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in a 57-49 KU win. The Jayhawks scored 40 points in the paint that night. Maurer, who's from Shawnee Mission, Kan., had a hard time watching it.
By then, Maurer was in full rehab mode. She set the underwater treadmill inside North Stadium to its fastest setting and ran as hard and as long as she could. While her teammates went home for chunks of the summer, Maurer stayed and rehabbed.
“Lonely,” she said. She reflected on her career to that point. Had she given everything to it? Could Maurer, so serious that she rarely laughed at jokes, stand to loosen up a little? Nebraska coach Connie Yori wanted Maurer to be a better leader and communicator, for the latter is a big part of Yori's defensive strategy.
“She's a smart, very quiet kid,” Yori said. “She's got to brain to body a little bit quicker. See it, do it.”
Coaches can't monitor the summer progress of their players in women's basketball, so it was hard for NU's brass to know for sure how much progress Maurer made. Nebraska would find out when Maurer tried to pass Yori's conditioning test in August. Maurer had to run the length of the court three times in 38 seconds, rest 90 seconds, and do it again. Eleven more times.
“There's no way I wasn't going to make it,” Maurer said. She was right.
Maurer moved well in the early parts of practice before retweaking her back injury last week. Maurer called it “minor.” No measurable setback.
And Yori said Nebraska needs Maurer for her size and length. NU's non-conference schedule is full of teams with solid post players, and Maurer remains the biggest front court defender the Huskers have.
“I just want to be that inside presence they can count on,” Maurer said. “Rebounder. Someone who can handle the bigs on the inside. That's what I enjoyed doing.”
Several Huskers battling injuries
Yori said in an interview last week that Nebraska continues to battle injury issues throughout the roster. Maurer is among the least of Yori's concerns.
Perhaps the biggest: Sophomore guard Hailie Sample — whom Yori praised as one of NU's best perimeter defenders last year — has missed all of spring and fall with a stress reaction in her leg. Sample battled the same injury in the weeks before the NCAA tournament loss to Kansas.
“She's very valuable,” Yori said.
Junior forward Jordan Hooper — Nebraska's leading scorer and rebounder — missed time in the summer and is practicing only half of the time. Hooper used the time off in the summer to get stronger in the upper body, which pleased Yori. Senior forward Meghin Williams, who's had a chronic foot injury for most of her career, has missed some time, too.
Nebraska practices roughly five times a week, and injuries have made it hard at times to field a full roster for workouts.
“If we don't get healthy,” Yori said, “we have a very challenging schedule ahead of us, and that's not a very good combination. We have a long ways to go.”
Hooper named second-team All-American
Hooper earned second-team All-America honors in Athlon Magazine's preseason listing of the nation's top women's players this week.
Hooper, who became the first sophomore in Nebraska history to reach the 1,000-point scoring mark in her career, was a first-team All-Big Ten pick while helping the Huskers to a 24-9 record last season.
The Huskers also came in at No. 21 in the Athlon preseason poll. Baylor took the top spot, followed by Duke, UConn, Ohio State and Stanford.
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