Ohio State women's basketball: Two-year injury rehab tough test for Beach

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Fred Squillante | Dispatch
Kalpana Beach has missed two seasons since she started 30 games as a freshman for Ohio State in the 2011-12 season.

More than two years have come and gone since Kalpana Beach last played in a basketball game that counted for the Ohio State women’s team.

Two tears in the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee and two surgeries requiring months of rehabilitation had made the memory dim enough that Beach paused for a moment recently when asked to recall the game.

“I don’t even remember,” she said. “Oh wait, I do remember. It was the first round of the NCAA tournament at Bowling Green.”

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>> Seriously? You're following all those Twitter accounts but not @buckeyextra? Go ahead and move to Michigan while you're at it.

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The game, a 70-65 loss to Florida, occurred on March 18, 2012, and proves that time spent on the shelf doesn’t necessarily fly.

“It really does seem like forever ago,” said Beach, who is working to return to the Buckeyes as a fourth-year junior this season. “I think that might make it feel even more exciting now. Basketball is going to feel like it’s brand new for me again.”

Beach, a 6-foot-1 forward, arrived at Ohio State in the fall of 2011 out of Westlake High School near Cleveland. She started 30 games that season for coach Jim Foster.

Her leaping ability drew gasps from fans, and she showed the beginnings of a promising inside offensive game. But Beach suffered a torn ACL in October 2012 and redshirted her sophomore season, Foster’s last at Ohio State.

Beach suffered another ACL tear about six months after the first, right before Ohio State hired Kevin McGuff to replace Foster. She entered Value City Arena on crutches to view the news conference, and another lost season waited for her.

“I just jumped up in the air and I landed on the (right) leg,” Beach said. “I hated that I tore it again. I felt like I was on my last strike.

“I know a girl (former OSU teammate Brianna Sanders) who tore hers three times, and she was done. But I knew immediately that I wanted to come back.”

Beach also knew what to expect.

“Right after you get the surgery, it’s the most painful thing ever,” she said. “Getting through that part is tough. I think the hardest part is just seeing everybody else out there practicing and playing while you can’t. It’s just a long process.”

Chalisa Fonza, the head trainer for OSU women’s basketball, noticed a difference in Beach the second time around.

“When it happened, there’s that moment of disbelief,” Fonza said. “You know, like, ‘Oh my God, this is the same thing.’ But her approach, her demeanor and the way she tackled the second rehab was the total opposite of the first time.

“The first time, there was that woe-is-me thing. The second time was, ‘OK, I know what to expect as far as the pain.’ Her mindset was just a lot better.”

Rehab is what an individual makes of it, Fonza said. Within days of surgery, Beach was up doing cardio and focusing on familiar goals of strengthening her quadriceps and hamstrings and regaining the range of motion in the knee.

“One thing to remember about rehab is there are small wins,” Fonza said. “When your range of motion reaches 10 percent or 30 percent or you start to walk or start to walk fluidly again, those are all benchmarks.”

Pressure to return quickly did not exist. Even though Ohio State was thin at the post last season, McGuff wanted Beach to have a full year to heal.

“I wanted to make sure that we did the right thing for her,” McGuff said. “There was no point in pushing her. We wanted her to focus on her rehab. She’s a great kid. That’s probably the best thing about her. She gets it.”

At the end of last season, Beach was allowed to participate in spring activities.

“I was able to do individual workouts with the coaches and to work out by myself,” she said. “I haven’t done any contact stuff. I think by the end of July or August that will happen. There’s no reason to rush into that.”

Even after missing two seasons, Beach has more on-court experience than any other Ohio State post player.

Third-year sophomore Lisa Blair got into 25 games last season but played 359 fewer minutes than Beach did in 2011-12. Sophomore Shayla Cooper played two games for Georgetown last season before transferring, and Makayla Waterman and Alexa Hart are incoming freshmen.

Beach knows them all off the court. Now, she wants to get to know them on it.

“I’ve got a new brace I’m wearing,” Beach said. “They even let me customize it a little bit. It seems like everything is right around the corner. But I’ve been waiting for years.”

jmassie@dispatch.com

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