BEST OF PREPS TOURNAMENT
Girls' first-round game
BAYLOR VS. SIGNAL MOUNTAIN
• Baylor starters: Kaleigh Clemons (So.), Abby Hubert (So.), Crosby Huckaby (So.), Mya Long (Fr.), Selena Popp (Jr.).
• Signal Mountain starters: Lydia Bledsoe (So.), Janie Boals (Fr.), Aryn Sanders (So.), Brooke Whitmire (Fr.), Marie Whitmire (Sr.)
• Items of interest: Both teams are guard-oriented and like to pressure the ball. And each has one of Hamilton County's best guards in Clemons for Baylor and Sanders for Signal Mountain. Clemons scored 19, 17 and 17 points on the way to being chosen MVP when the Lady Red Raiders won last year's tournament. Sanders is averaging 17.6 points per game for Signal Mountain, which is in the tournament for the first time.
Signal Mountain's Anna Althaus had dealt with a tear of an anterior cruciate ligament before. So when she went to make a defensive play in the Lady Eagles' season-opening basketball game against GPS and felt a twinge in her knee, she didn't immediately think the worst.
"I tried to steal a pass, and when I jumped I kind of landed a little awkwardly," Althaus said. "When I jumped, it buckled a little bit. It felt a little loose in there, but I tried to get up and run."
As it turned out, Althaus had torn her ACL. This time it wasn't the left knee -- the one she hurt late in her junior season -- but the right one.
This latest tear happened Nov. 12, and afterward Althaus did some soul-searching -- but not for long. As long as there was a way, the 5-foot-1 senior guard wasn't about to call it a career just yet.
Two bulky knee braces have become as much a part of her uniform as her No. 5 jersey. She'll have them all on Thursday at Chattanooga State when Signal Mountain (7-5) takes on Baylor (6-6) in an opening-round game in the Times Free Press Best of Preps tournament. Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m.
Althaus's first knee injury happened Jan. 31 against South Pittsburg. She also tore her meniscus in addition to her ACL that time and missed the final five games of last season.
Althaus underwent surgery March 28. Told by her orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Mark Sumida, that rehabilitation could take anywhere from six to 12 months, she set her sights on the earliest possible date -- and went past it by only two weeks.
She was released in time to participate in preseason conditioning. But suddenly, all the recovery work seemed fruitless when the second injury occurred.
A few days later, Signal Mountain girls' coach Jason Hill said he was preparing his move-on-without-her speech for the team when Althaus contacted him. She said she was forgoing surgery, knowing the risks as explained by Dr. Sumida, and planned to rejoin the team.
Her first return to action was last Saturday when the Lady Eagles hosted the Hoops for Hope benefit. She came off the bench against South Pittsburg and right away made a steal and took it in for a layup. She hit a 3-point goal the next trip down the floor.
"The girls came up off the bench," Hill said of the scenario when she converted after the steal. "The crowd got a little excited. They knew what she'd been through.
"We're real excited about getting her back this year. It's only been two games in, but we've got 12 or 14 games left and we expect her to be a big part of that."
Althaus has been on Signal Mountain's varsity since she was in eighth grade and has been a starter since she was a freshman. She admitted to being a little nervous now when trying to make sudden cuts on the floor, but Hill said he's going to show trust in her and vows to begin increasing her workload .
"Her decision-making, competitiveness and leadership are the big things she gives us," Hill said. "When it comes to knowledge of the game, there's no comparison to anybody else on the team. She knows how to play basketball."
Althaus may still end up having surgery but said it won't be until after the season -- her last one at Signal Mountain and one she's determined not to miss.
"My goal has always been to, no matter what, work as hard as possible to help my team," Althaus said. "I've always wanted to be a good 3-point shooter and a good role player. I'm still going to work hard to achieve that goal, ACL or not."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.