By: Caryn Maconi, CUBuffs.com
BOULDER – When Colorado women’s basketball forward Jen Reese suffered an orbital bone injury under her left eye last February, she was just gaining momentum as a starting freshman.
Reese was in the opening minutes of her ninth game as a starter against then-No.2 Stanford when she attempted to take a charge under the Cardinal basket and sustained the injury that left her benched for the rest of the season.
Before that point, Reese had been one of the strongest newcomers to the team, ranking second in rebounding (6.0 rpg) and fourth in scoring (7.8 ppg). With a shooting percentage over 50 percent in 11 games, she was on her way to becoming one of the top 12 scorers in the Pac-12 Conference. The injury came at an inopportune time, as she just missed the minimum number of games played to qualify for a spot on the Pac-12 leaderboard.
“She was disappointed when she got hurt because it came at a really important point in the season, at the fun part – February, March, the postseason,” said CU head coach Linda Lappe. “But during her recovery she was really optimistic that she would get back.”
When Reese was able to get moving again, both her confidence and eyesight had taken a hit. While her teammates were doing postseason workouts, Reese was watching from the sidelines. She experienced frequent headaches over the summer and was limited to mild jogging and light weight training to maintain her fitness.
“After a while, I called my trainer and said, ‘Hey, can I start to sprint before I come back (for the fall) so I’m not too out of shape?'” Reese said. “So I started to sprint and just increased every week, and the weights got heavier and heavier.”
By the time regular season practices began in October, she was able to hit the court once again, this time with a pair of protective goggles. Reese said she still sees double when she looks directly upwards and to the sides, but that her headaches are mostly gone.
“In her first few practices, she was lacking a little bit of the confidence that she had last season,” Lappe said. “I think what (the eyesight issue) affected most is her vision around the basket, and that’s important for a post player.”
As the season came into full swing, though, Reese was learning to play efficiently with slightly impaired vision and re-emerge as a force on the court. She is currently third on the team in scoring (9.1) and rebounding (5.2) and has scored in double figures in eight of her last 12 games. Her late put-back against then-No. 8 Louisville was the decisive field goal in CU’s 70-66 win.
Though the goggles are annoying, Reese said, the double vision no longer holds back her game.
Last Sunday in a road win over Utah, Reese showed she was back in full force, scoring a team-high 11 points that included a 7-0 personal run midway through the first half.
Reese, however, wouldn’t be satisfied with just returning to the level of play she had last year – she wanted to be even better.
“My personal goal was to become stronger and more confident in my shot, and I feel like I’ve been doing that,” Reese said. “My defense last year wasn’t as good as it was last year, and I really emphasized that . . . my confidence level went up with the help of my teammates, so I just feel like overall my game has improved since last year.”
For Reese, that support from teammates and coaches was a critical part of the recovery process – and, said Lappe, Reese is a critical member of the team.
“Good things happen when she has the ball,” Lappe said. “She may not be the one to score, but often somebody scores when she has the ball . . . I would like her to be more aggressive and demand the ball more.”
With an unrelenting drive to get stronger every day, Reese is on her way to a full recovery and then some.
She and the Buffs face their next conference opponent, Arizona State, Friday in a 7 p.m. matchup at the Coors Events Center. The Sun Devils are coming off a winning weekend over Oregon and Oregon State and are currently 10-6 overall, 2-2 in the Pac-12.
The Buffs, fresh off of a home-and-home sweep against Utah, stand at 13-2 overall and 2-2 in conference play.