Head coach Sam Atoa kept his fingers crossed the entire season, hoping his team’s health would hold. It did – until it mattered most.
Middle blocker Erica Nish tore her ACL early in Tuesday’s game against Southern Utah after making a play at the net and coming down hard. She immediately grabbed her right knee and remained on the floor while team officials attended her before helping her off the court. Nish did not play the remainder of the match, though she did remain with the team on the sidelines.
Nish said she plans on undergoing surgery before Christmas.
“It’s unfortunate when situations like this happen,” Atoa said. “We feel for Erica and for her not being able to finish what she’s done all year. We’ve been relatively healthy.”
The injury occurred just three days before the Wolverines hosted North Dakota. Both teams were tied in the Great West Conference with identical 8-1 conference records, making Friday’s game one to determine the regular season GWC championship (go to uvureview.com for a game recap). The conference tournament is this week at North Dakota.
The loss of Nish diminishes the defensive advantage UVU held over most of their opponents. The 6-1 Nish, with a team high of 1.18 blocks per game, had teamed with 6-foot-2-inch Sarah Clement with 1.15 bpg throughout the season to form a formidable tag-team of middle blockers. The two combined for five conference Player of the Week awards in the regular season, helping the Wolverines to a 20-8 overall record heading into Friday’s match.
After Nish left Tuesday’s game, Atoa inserted sophomore transfer Katie Fritzler. A 6-foot middle blocker out of Colorado, Fritzler ended up with a game-high six blocks in three sets.
Atoa said she and possibly 6-foot-3-inch true freshman Jaramey Barney would fill in with Nish out.
“[Katie’s] got the most experience for sure,” Atoa said. “It’ll either be Katie or Jaramey. We’ll put them in situations to see how they do. Katie did a nice job on Tuesday. She’s been the first one off the bench. With her experience and what she’s done, she would give us the most valuable minutes.”
Nish, who was notified of the extent of the injury Wednesday, expressed confidence in her teammates’ ability to fill in for her if she is, in fact, done for the season.
“They’re going to do fine,” Nish said. “It’s a team sport and when one person can’t be there then everybody else steps in and stitches up that hole.”
The team is, however, holding out cautious hopes that Nish may actually be able to play in the GWC tournament this week.
“With injuries like this, because of where she’s at, she could possibly play,” Atoa said. “We’re going to take it day by day and see where that takes us. If not, we’ve got kids that are determined to be able to step up.”
By Matt Petersen – Sports Editor
Photo by Nathan Grill