By Steve Stone for MSNsportsNET.com
November 12, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s season opener this Friday against Towson will mark the first time guard Vanessa House has played in a regular-season game since tearing her ACL last December.
||Vanessa House's 2009 campaign ended last year during a blowout victory against Mercyhurst.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
WVU’s 88-38 victory over Mercyhurst last season was overshadowed by House’s season-ending injury, a play in which she drove aggressively into the paint and came down awkwardly on her left knee. Just one of the many critical injuries that the Mountaineers endured last season, House was forced to watch the rest of the year from the bench.
The Fresno, Calif., native was forced to rehabilitate her knee back to 100 percent. The difficulty of having surgery and then trying to repair her body was one of the toughest tasks that House has ever gone through.
“I never had any major injuries – I never broke a bone before that,” House said. “That was hard. It really hurt because I had to sit out a full year and that was probably the longest time of my life. Everybody was real supportive and they helped and were patient. Sometimes I had days when it was just real hard to keep going, but I had a lot of help.”
Although her rehab displayed her toughness and sticktoitiveness, it seems that those days are in House’s rearview mirror as she and the Mountaineers enter the season with a revamped roster full of tremendous athleticism.
In WVU’s 123-65 exhibition win over Glenville State, House scored 9 points on 4 of 6 shooting in 25 minutes. More importantly, Glenville created a helter-skelter style of play with its full court press and trapping, and House passed her first test with flying colors by dribbling and weaving through her defenders at full speed.
With a fully healthy team that includes talented guards Liz Repella and Sarah Miles, an injury-free Madina Ali, a talented transfer in Korinne Campbell and three heralded freshmen in Asya Bussie, Akeema Richards and Antishia Wright, WVU is ready to turn some heads this season. The biggest sign of improvement, according to House, is the togetherness that has permeated the entire squad.
“We all hang out a lot so I think there’s more chemistry this year – that’s always beneficial,” House added. “Being able to know your personnel and being able to know who does what, I think the chemistry is better this season.”
Not only is House on her personal road to recovery, but the team is looking to improve on its finish from last season. With season-ending injuries to House, Ali and then-freshman Jessica Capers, WVU managed to finish with an 18-15 overall record that included a 5-11 mark in the competitive Big East.
House expects this year’s team, which is chock-full of quality players, to progress tremendously. After spending much of the past year away from the hardwood with the training staff, she still expects to see an improvement in her individual game instead of just flat-lining.
“I want to get better overall,” House said. “Taking care of the ball and getting better at things that coach emphasizes. He emphasizes that he wants me to be a shooter, so I’m in the gym working on my shot a lot. I’m doing anything I can to benefit the team. I’ve felt blessed to be back out on the court without a knee brace.”
After starring for Fresno City College from 2006-08, Coach Mike Carey and his staff kept an eye out for House after she scored 41 points, grabbed eight rounds and had five assists in a semi-final loss in the junior college championships. Seeking even better competition to match her abilities, House wanted to join a conference and a team that would enhance her skills on the court.
“I decided to come here because the conference was so much tougher, and I thought it was time to leave home,” House added.
With WVU bringing in arguably its best recruiting class in school history, House has shifted from being a newcomer to a mentor. Two top guards in Richards and Wright have already got their feet wet at WVU, but House does what she can to help both players out after facing her own hardships.
“I try to give them advice anytime I can,” House added. “In practice when coach is on them real tough, I try to be there for them because I was practicing for a while before I got hurt so I know how it is. You just have to practice through it, not let that get to you and keep going because if you stay down it’s not going to do anything good.”
House, who is one of eight children in her family, will get her first test on Friday in a possible matchup against senior guard Shanae Baker-Price, a preseason first team Colonial Athletic Association pick. Towson was picked sixth in the preseason CAA poll, and returns 11 letterwinners and four starters from a team that finished 17-13 last season.
Whatever challenges House faces this season, it will never compare to her embattled road to recovery. Now that she is back and full healthy, House is looking to play her part in what could be a fulfilling season for the Mountaineers.
“We have so many good players and a lot of depth,” House said. “The five that start right now have pretty good chemistry. Coming off the bench is no problem for me. To me, it’s not about starting; it’s about contributing and doing my job. As long as I’m doing my job and giving everything I got, I’m benefitting the team.”