By Kurt Ritzman
Assistant Sports Editor
Some people take sports seriously. They play hard. They play to win, and they compete to the best of their ability.
Bellevue junior Ali Reeg is one of those people.
That’s how she played in a regional basketball final last year that clinched a berth in the state tournament for the Comets and extended their record to 25-0. That’s also how she was playing in July in the last softball game of the season for a team that went 4-33.
But something unfortunate happened in that softball game.
“The second baseman and me — I play shortstop — were running after a flyball,” Reeg said. “I called her off. She ducked out of the way and hit my knee.”
And that tore the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in Reeg’s left knee.
Reeg — who was the Herald’s girls basketball co-player of the year last season — had surgery late in July.
She’s not one to stay away from the basketball court, and she didn’t for the three weeks between the injury and surgery.
“I was out there shooting,” she said. “But then after the surgery, I was limited. I didn’t want to mess anything up, so I just did what they said.”
And that wasn’t much at first.
“The first four days out of surgery I just had to sit in bed, except to go to the bathroom,” Reeg said. “That first month was absolutely awful. I was so bored. It’s been hard.”
After a couple of weeks on crutches, Reeg started physical therapy. She graduated from physical therapy recently and has kept working.
“I’ve been in the gym pretty much every day, strengthening my leg and slowly getting back,” she said. “I lost a lot of muscle in my left quad, so I spent a lot of time in the weight room — not with weights, but resistance bands — trying to build that back.”
But a basketball was never far from Reeg’s hand. She said about a month after the surgery she was back at work on things that required limited mobility — free-throw shooting and ball-handling.
“That’s all I could,” she said with a laugh. “Especially free throws. Hopefully that helps my (shooting) percentage when I come back.”
Now, as almost five months have passed since the surgery, she can be more active.
“We bought a brace, and that’s helped with my confidence,” Reeg said. “I can run up and down the court. I’m not much side-to-side, yet. I can shuffle very slowly. I can tell when and what I can do. I’m progressing each week.”
As she’s progressing she’s got an eye on the schedule, too. The Comets play crosstown rival Marquette Catholic in the final Big East Conference regular-season game between the two schools on Jan. 8.
“I told my dad I want to get back for the Marquette game,” Reeg said. “Even if I could only play for two minutes, I wouldn’t care. But I don’t want to risk it too soon. I’ll have to wait until the 15th to 20th and slowly get back in. Jan. 24 will be six months after my surgery, and then I should be able to play a whole game.”
While the Comets (6-2) have missed her play on the court, she’s still been a presence around the program.
“I’ve been to every practice,” Reeg said. “In the beginning, I was just sitting there and icing my leg. Then I shot at a side basket and went to the weight room with them. Now I can participate. I run up and down the floor with my team. I can shoot layups and free throws and run some of the drills with my team. It’s been very nice.”
On the court, Kelsey Ernst — the Herald’s other co-player of the year last season — has been leading the way for the Comets. Ernst is averaging 18.9 points and 11.5 rebounds a game. Carly Rubel, Bellevue’s other post player, averages 11.3 and 8.6.
But the person who has taken on most of the responsibility from the void left by Reeg’s absence is junior Mariah Steines. Last year, Steines averaged 3.9 points a game, mainly coming off the bench as the shooting guard.
This year, she’s taken over as the starting point guard while Reeg is out and is averaging 9.6 points and 4.6 assists. She scored 16 points and dished out six assists in a six-point win over Preston last week.
“Mariah has done an amazing job,” Reeg said. “She’s stepped it up and she’s getting things done. She’s been scoring a lot of points lately, and that helps her confidence. She’s a great team player.”
Reeg said she thought having the other girls playing without her could help the team in the long run.
“It’s been extra motivation for them,” she said. “It’s a learning experience, and they’re getting better and better. We’re not dependent on one person. There’s talent in every single person on this team.
“I don’t know what it will be like when I come back. I’ll be slow at first. They’ve done a great job. I’m so proud of them.”
The Comets lost their first two games — which Reeg attributed to Steines’ position change and three new starters — but have reeled off six wins in a row.
“Now they’re kicking butt,” Reeg said. “I love watching them.”
Bellevue’s goal from about five minutes after losing in the quarterfinals of the state tournament last year was to return this year, and Reeg said that’s still the goal.
“We know we can do it,” she said. “They work so hard every practice. I’m working my butt off to come back. They could go far without me. As a senior, Kelsey will find a way. We’ll find a way.”