ACL tear takes Higgs on year-long journey to recovery

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Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

Texas was 3–0, coming off a 56-point win and a week-long Thanksgiving break. Then, in an opening tournament game against Quinnipiac, Lashann Higgs tore her ACL.

“I pushed it on the break,” Higgs said. “It was me and Danni (Williams) on the fast break. (I) did a Eurostep. I’m not sure what happened. I heard some type of snap. I knew it was my ACL.”

Soon after returning from Florida, the senior guard had surgery on the ACL, the ligament which allows for lateral movement in the knee.

“When you tear your ACL and they’re doing surgery on that, they’re making a brand new ACL,” Texas associate athletic trainer Heidi Wlezien said. “You can’t repair what’s in there. You have to essentially get a brand new ACL.”

Even after the initial injury and the surgery, Higgs still had to fight through the physical and mental pain that comes with an extended rehab.

“The most difficult part was the next three months,” Higgs said. “It was painful every day no matter what you did. No matter how many pain killers you took, the pain wasn’t going to stop.”

The recovery time for an injury of this magnitude is usually nine to 12 months. Higgs, who is a little over four months removed from surgery, still has little movement in that knee, which limits her activity to form shooting and other stationary workouts. Some of the struggles she’s faced during the process so far have been mental just as much as they’ve been physical.

“That mental component plays such a big role … with getting back,” Wlezien said. “Even though you might be medically cleared at six months or nine months, you might not still be playing at the pre-injury level.”

That was — and still is — exactly the case for the soon to be fifth-year senior.

“It’s hard to see what you used to be and what you are now,” Higgs said. “It’s kind of a mental thing, (thinking) ‘I used to be this fast.’ Trying to keep myself positive mentally was definitely the struggle.”

Injuries, however, can sometimes act as a blessing in disguise. For Higgs, it allowed her to experience the game differently, as a player and teammate.

“She’s been able to help our guards and use her voice more than she’s used to,” Texas associate head coach Jamie Carey said. “I think her teammates have a lot of respect for her. (They) understand that she’s been through a lot and has a unique perspective on life and basketball.”

Higgs is a quiet, mild-tempered person. It shows in her interviews and her demeanor on the court. Considering that finding her voice as a leader has been a target area for growth, her injury provided an opportunity to evaluate the needs of the program.

“I feel like my teammates need to hear my voice more,” Higgs said. “(I) lead by example. At some point, I need to incorporate being more vocal.”

Her leadership and presence, vocal or nonvocal, were missed this season. Ranked at No. 11 in the preseason Top 25 poll, Texas was poised for a Big 12 and NCAA Tournament run with Higgs being the center of its plans. Without her, the Longhorns were still able to make it to the NCAA tournament but were bounced out in the first round by Indiana. The loss hurt Higgs specifically in that she couldn’t assist her team.

“It’s like any player that’s hurt,” Higgs said. “I want to help them.”

Now, with her request for a medical redshirt year all but approved and her motivation to play alongside her teammates again, Higgs is ready and eager to get back to playing form.