MC women’s basketball players fight through knee injuries

(left to right) Jordan Ballard, Mackenzie Puckett, Mindy Brackins and Brittany Johnson display their knee injuries. Photo by Abby Navarro.
(left to right) Jordan Ballard, Mackenzie Puckett, Mindy Brackins and Brittany Johnson display their knee injuries. Photo by Abby Navarro.

Many athletes have experienced injuries throughout their high school and collegiate careers, but not many have overcome two… and are still playing. For Mindy Brackins and Mackenzie Puckett, two major knee injuries are not enough to stop them from doing what they love.

Puckett, a current senior at Maryville College, and Brackins, a junior, have both excelled in their basketball seasons at MC.

With their help, the women’s basketball team managed to end the 2015-2016 season with an incredible 26-4 overall record, while also going 16-0 at home. Along the way, they also pocketed the conference championship and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.

Puckett has also recently been credited as the most decorated athlete in MC school history. An eight-time All-American, 2014 and 2016 USA South Player of the Year, and 2016 USA South Tournament MVP, Puckett has made history and has not let her injuries stop her.

In the 30 games Puckett battled in this season, she averaged 15.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and had a field goal percentage of 42.5. Brackins started and played in a total of seven games this season before injuring her knee against Oglethorpe on Dec. 11. She averaged 14.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and shot 46.1% from the field.

Brackins first tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during her freshmen year at MC. Within the same month, although a sophomore at the time, Puckett tore her ACL as well. Puckett re-tore the same ACL during her junior year at MC and finished the season before receiving surgery to repair it after the season ended. Puckett, now back to full health, did not miss a beat with the Lady Scots’ history setting season. Brackins is currently in rehabilitation and is set to be back for the upcoming 2016-2017 season.

Brackins speaks on the struggles she had to face coming back from her surgeries.

“Negative self-talk during rehab was a major struggle for me” Brackins said. “It was more mental aspects than physical ones, and I had to learn to overcome those and get it out of my head.”

For Puckett, the battle was being patient.

“The hardest thing was waiting.” Puckett said. “Also, the courage to play again and trust my knee. It was hard to play injured, so when I was playing healthy I still expected my knee to give on me. It was playing without thinking about the risk and danger of getting hurt again.”

Along with Brackins and Puckett both battling two knee surgeries, there are other athletes on the MC team who are facing troublesome ligament injuries as well.

Brittany Johnson, an upcoming junior for the Lady Scots, will undergo ACL reconstructive surgery for the second time to repair the torn ligament in her right knee. Johnson had a 36.4 field goal percentage and 35.3 three-point percentage before injuring her knee during the conference championship against the Piedmont Lions.

“I knew exactly what had happened when I tore it,” Johnson said. “All I could think to myself is ‘no, not again’. I looked at Trish, our athletic trainer, when she ran over and just said ‘it’s gone”.

Johnson says she knew as soon as she went down that she had a long road ahead of her. However, instead of letting the injury bring her down, Johnson kept her head high and put her team first.

“Walking off the court, I decided right there that no matter what, I was going to be the best cheerleader I could be for the team that I love and have been through everything with.” Johnson said.

While Brackins, Puckett and Johnson battle through their second ACL injuries, Jordan Ballard is new to the “ACL Club”.

After playing almost an entire season on a torn ACL, Ballard finished her senior year with 147 points, 109 assists and 81 steals. Although for Ballard, unlike Brackins, Puckett and Johnson, this experience is brand new.

Ballard underwent a successful ACL reconstructive surgery on Mar. 15. After only 2 weeks out, Ballard learned the ropes with some help from veterans on the team.

“Mindy has been a lot of help,” Ballard said. “I room with her and she’s been the constant one telling me to not get frustrated with myself and that everyone handles [the injury] differently. She tells me to stay positive in myself.”

Ballard and Puckett concluded their senior seasons in the orange and garnet, but for Johnson and Brackins, the road to recovery has just begun. Johnson is scheduled to undergo surgery on Mar. 31 and will be looking at full recovery towards the beginning of the 2016-2017 season. Brackins is scheduled to be at full health before the end of the summer.

The duo look forward to the upcoming season ahead of them.

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