How’s this for tough? Believing her knee was merely sore, Archbishop Murphy’s Beth Carlson played the first half of last basketball season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. After several weeks of discomfort, she went for an MRI that showed the ligament was not only damaged, but actually severed.
She then played the second half of the season.
“I kind of ignore pain,” Carlson said.
Despite having an ACL-less knee, the 6-foot-2 Carlson finished the 2011-12 season averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds a game, and was named the Cascade Conference MVP for the second consecutive year.
Her knee “was definitely hurting her,” Archbishop Murphy coach Mark Bircher said. “It was hard to watch. But Beth is as tough as they get. If she had a broken leg, I think she’d just be limping and keep playing.
“She’s a real gamer,” he added. “The only time she ever goes out is when she gets a bloody nose and the ref makes her come out.”
After the season, which ended when the Wildcats were eliminated at the district tournament, Carlson had surgery to repair her knee. The surgeon grafted a portion of her patella tendon to restore the severed ACL, and following months of rest and rehabilitation — which cost her the summer AAU basketball season and the fall Archbishop Murphy volleyball season — she is back playing with, as she puts it, “my new knee.”
And with Carlson leading the way, the Wildcats are taking aim this season at a league championship and perhaps even a trip to the state tournament. It will, however, be a difficult road because Archbishop Murphy has a young squad and there are several rivals — most notably Cedarcrest in the league race, and strong teams to the north in the district playoffs — with similar goals.
“We’re young, but I think we’ll do well,” Carlson said. And having been to the state tournament as a freshman, “I want to start my high school career and then finish it the same way,” she added.
A healthy Carlson makes the Wildcats a good bet. She is, Bircher said, “a big-time threat inside. She’s got really good size, nice post moves and good touch. But she can also knock down the 3-pointer and has good skills as far as driving. So she’s a multiple threat.
“She’s just a highly skilled basketball player,” he said.
Carlson’s injury occurred during a practice with her AAU team, the Emerald City Swish, in the summer of 2011. She was dribbling in the open court, but came to a sudden stop and immediately felt a sharp pain in her knee.
“At first I thought I’d hyperextended it. I fell to the ground and started crying.” Later, she said, “I tried to jog it off, and the next day I was playing again because I didn’t think it was anything serious. But it was definitely sore.”
The pain was marginal during the fall volleyball season, but when basketball started it became more bothersome. After several weeks, she finally told her mother it was time to get her knee checked out.
When the doctor returned with the MRI, Carlson said, “he was in shock. He didn’t understand how I’d been able to play.”
Not wanting to abandon her teammates at midseason, and knowing that she’d hardly already managed to play half a season, Carlson elected to postpone her surgery.
Playing on a damaged knee “definitely scared me,” she said, “but I just had to risk it. It also lit a fire in me. My first game back was the day I found out my knee was torn, and I actually played better because I was so mad and upset. It was almost like I wanted to prove people wrong. To show that I could still play with this.”
Her coaches and teammates were grateful. And in awe.
“She was in a lot of pain, but she battled through it,” said teammate Anna Maher, a senior forward. “It really showed her character and how strong she is. That she was able to battle through that was really remarkable.”
Added senior guard MaireMichael Carroll, “When we found out it was torn everyone was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, and you’re still playing? You can bear that pain?’ It was amazing.”
The surgery took place on Feb. 23 and required two incisions. One, about 4 inches long, goes the length of her kneecap, which allowed the surgeon to reach the torn ligament. Another slightly shorter incision on the inside of her knee gave access to the patella tendon for the graft. Lastly, there was meniscus damage, which was also repaired.
Carlson played the rest of the season with a knee brace, which she will wear again this year. Otherwise, she does not expect to be restricted in any way.
“When I first started having contact I was really scared,” said Carlson, who has accepted a scholarship offer to play next season at Santa Clara University. “I didn’t want anyone to come close to me. And in the back of my mind I’m always scared that someone will hit it weird or I’ll stop weird (and have a re-injury).
“But being tentative is just going to hold me back,” she said. “I just have to forget about it and play.”