One thing is for certain: USC Aiken All-American forward Kayla Harris will play again for the Pacers in the 2013-14 season.
“I am playing next season,” she confirmed with a laugh after the team’s 69-58 win over Francis Marion on Saturday.
She’ll be doing so after recovery from a torn MCL and surgery to repair a torn ACL that she suffered in the team’s Jan. 16 loss to Clayton State.
The exact timetable for her return to action is still in flux to a degree because of the first stage of that recovery, the MCL. Doctors have decided to have Harris wait six to eight weeks or so while that ligament heals before even scheduling her surgery.
Head coach Mike Brandt said that he has no doubts that Harris will be able to stick to even the most optimistic of schedules for recuperating from the season-ending injury.
“Hopefully everything will go well, and she’s in great shape,” he said. “She’s a very strong young lady, so I believe by the beginning of next year, basketball season, she’ll be fine.”
Still not quite two weeks out from the injury, the earliest the surgery could occur would be the very end of February or early March.
In the meantime, Harris has already begun the rehabilitation process in full force with her senior season on her mind.
“I’m just doing some exercises – working on range of motion, everything like that – to prepare for the surgery, and then once I do have surgery, the rehab will really kick up, and I’ll be getting ready for next year,” she said.
This season had started as expected for the high-ranking team’s marquee player.
As the Pacers (15-2, 8-2 Peach Belt Conference) rose as high as No. 3 in the country, Harris averaged 18.2 points and 7.3 rebounds through the first 13 games of the campaign.
Since losing Harris, the team has struggled a bit offensively, which can be expected with that kind of presence missing from the lineup. The Pacers are 3-1 since the loss to the now-No. 3 Lakers. Still carrying a scoring average of 68 points per game, USCA failed to break 60 in the first three of those games after only being held to less than 60 once in the first 12 games.
Still, there have been some glimmers of offensive hope through that stretch.
In the team’s first game after finding out they’d finish the season without their top player, senior captain Daniela Tarailo scored a career-best 30 points in a 57-43 road win over Young Harris.
In Saturday’s win, four players scored in double figures, led by 16 points from Mia Antoine, another senior captain. That tied her career-high scoring output.
Harris said that she’s been trying to help her teammates the only way she can – by advising them – and it’s been a blessing to see them come through with wins.
“It’s a great feeling. You know, I talk to them before every game, let them know, ‘You just have to be on the attack. Shoot when you’re open; take what the defense gives you,’?” she said. “And to see them do that and just execute, it’s a great feeling.”
Brandt said that Saturday’s performances by Antione and Tarailo, who scored 15 points, along with the 11-point games from Mackenzie Reese and Porsha Martin, were a sign that perhaps the team was finding itself without its star.
“It’s kind of a process of trying to find a new identity for us without Kayla, and so it’s been kind of a struggle for us the first couple games,” he said on Saturday. “Tonight was a much better execution of it, and got some better shots, different people stepping up, so that’s huge for us right now.”
The Pacer women, ranked No. 6 in the most recent NCAA Division II coaches’ poll with another set to come out today, will continue to hone that new identity on Thursday when they host Flagler (7-8, 5-5) at 5:30 p.m.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.