The date was Jan. 29, the game was Branford girls' hoops versus North Haven, and the sound was one that no athlete ever wants to hear.
It was the sound of a tear in the posterior cruciate ligament of Jenna Walsh's left leg, the same leg in which she'd torn her mediate collateral ligament last year. The injury occurred when a North Haven player missed a free throw, Jenna went for the rebound, and the Indians' athlete fell on Jenna's leg, pushing it sideways and tearing the PCL.
"All I could do was hope for the best while we waited for the results of the MRI, but our trainers didn't think it looked good," Jenna says. "They didn't think I'd be able to come back this season."
Jenna's absence loomed large for the Hornets considering they were in a mad dash to try to make the state tournament and the senior shooting guard certainly didn't want to watch her team's final few games from the bench. However, a few things then happened which reversed the fortunes for both Jenna and her squad. First, Jenna received her MRI results that verified she'd torn her PCL-certainly not the best news, but better than if she had tore her MCL or meniscus. Then, Winter Storm Nemo walloped the shoreline with three feet of snow, postponing by a week Branford's regular season finale versus Hamden, a game the Hornets needed to win to make states. This allowed Jenna extra time to heal so she could return to the court with her team's season on the line and that's precisely what occurred as Jenna's 12 points, four steals, and lockdown defense on Hamden's top scorer led Branford to a victory which put them back in the state bracket.
"I was lucky. I wouldn't have been able to play if the Hamden game was on its original day, but the snowstorm gave me extra time to heal and re-boost me knee," says Jenna, who went on to score 16 while guarded by an All-American in Branford's state game against Wilton. "I was still in a little pain and missed a few lay-ups early, but picked myself up, gave it my all, and drained a few threes that put us ahead by enough to win. It was a great feeling to feel like my old self again and help our team improve from two wins last season to eight this year."
It was during that two-win season last winter when Jenna tore her MCL, an injury which cost her the rest of the campaign. Jenna then endured three months of physical therapy so she could compete for her AAU basketball squad, the Connecticut Breeze, after which she began her final year with Branford field hockey. Jenna says she felt 100 percent in helping the Hornets have a solid season that saw them win a few playoff games and her impact was felt all over the field as Coach Cathy McGuirk had Jenna play multiple positions.
"Jenna played a lot of different spots for us and would have played anywhere we needed her. She would have played goalie if we asked her to," said McGuirk. "Jenna is a trooper who's suffered a few unfortunate accidents, but deals with it and comes right back with determination to get out there and do her best. She used her athleticism and aggressiveness to always be around the ball."
Upon the campaign's conclusion, Coach McGuirk presented Jenna with her team's Most Versatile Award, a distinction that means the world to the senior captain.
"Winning that award made me feel like my hard work had paid off and that I had never let my team down," says Jenna, who volunteers in Branford's Unified Sports program. "I will play wherever my team needs me to. Even if it's a different position than I'm used to, I will put my mind to it and say I can do it."
When tip-off time arrived for the recent basketball season, Jenna was a constant in her shooting guard position, yet still showed versatility by averaging 8.2 points, 2.8 steals, 2.2 assists, and 1.8 rebounds per game. She also contributed in another way by organizing the Hornets' Breast Cancer Awareness Game that raised nearly 900 dollars.
Jenna says she will "always have positive memories, especially of my senior year" when reflecting upon her time as a Branford athlete. In turn, basketball coach Joel Rebhun is thankful for the memories Jenna created this winter with her drive to return from injury and help put Hornets' girls' hoops back on the map.
"We needed Jenna this year and she didn't let us down. She was terrific all season, got better as it went on, and played her best in big moments, especially the Hamden game that got us into the tournament," Rebhun says. "Jenna is a wonderful kid who loves competing and is about as tough as it gets. Every time she gets knocked down, she gets back up."