May 20, 2003

Hebel caps fine basketball career with triumph over injury

Perhaps the most successful leaders are those who have crafted the ability to combine both spoken and unspoken leadership, inspiring others sometimes through words, but more often through action.

Laura Hebel, a graduating three-point threat on the Maroon women's basketball team, has learned that it takes a lot more than just the ability to show one's talent to lead a team. Having torn her ACL in the sixth game of her fourth year, Hebel was forced to watch her team from the sideline for nearly most of the season.

In her breakout season as a third-year, Hebel not only provided a consistent supply of points, averaging over 12 per game, but her 52 three-pointers set the school's all-time career record.

"It would have been more if I didn't have a one-month shooting slump," Hebel remarked with a smirk. This confidence, coupled with her seldom-matched work ethic, earned Hebel recognition as an All-Conference Honorable Mention in her third year.

After seeing minimal playing time as a bench player the previous season, Hebel was surprised to be named captain her third year. One of two remaining players of an original first-year class of eight, Hebel was proud to accept her new responsibility, confident in her ability to set an example of heart and hard work.

She was also quick to recognize the support she received from her classmate Jaimie Bleck. According to Hebel, the idea of being a leader did not worry her because she "also had Jaimie who talks all the time."

Working well in tandem with Bleck, who has been known to go hoarse cheering encouragement to her teammates, Hebel spent her third year providing leadership on the court with hard work, hustle, and her deadly three-pointer.

Hebel recalls several numbing thoughts that weighed heavily in her mind shortly after tearing her ACL. Among them was the realization that she might never again be able to wear her game jersey. Perhaps for a first- or second-year, the act of putting on one's jersey before a game is more routine than for a fourth-year facing the end of her competitive career. In Hebel's words, "It is your last year putting a uniform on...that was one of the biggest things I felt bad about when I got hurt."

In addition to her disappointment about having to sit-out part of her fourth year, Hebel was faced with another troubling question: would her teammates still seek her leadership even though she could no longer lead them from the basketball court? Chicago head coach Jennifer Kroll notes that a primary factor in Hebel having earned her right as a team captain was her evident desire to become a better player.

"Laura is somebody who understands how to do the little things," Kroll said. "She understood how her work ethic would pay off... how it would benefit her eventually as an individual." There is no doubt that Hebel had made her individual improvement a top priority.

The true test of her team loyalty would come in the weeks and months following her injury. In the end, Hebel would have to choose between alienation and inclusion. She would have to somehow learn that being a team player meant putting aside one's own discomfort for the sake the team. Doctors told Hebel that she could either have surgery immediately, which would render her incapable of any physical activity for at least five months, or she could undergo rigorous physical therapy with a torn ACL in hopes of being able to recover in time for the tail end of the season. Hebel decided to take the second path.

Hebel knew that with her new rehab schedule, she would need to miss the majority of team practices, thus physically distancing her from the rest of her team. Hebel admits, however, to further alienating herself from her teammates while struggling to overcome her self-pity. Though she did not want her injury to affect her attitude towards her teammates, Hebel said that when one has just torn her ACL, "It's hard to be nice!"

First-year teammate Suzie Gutowski maintains that while she did feel slight hostility coming from Hebel's direction immediately following the injury, she nonetheless admired her dedication to her recovery. Hebel's decision to undergo intense rehab rather having season-ending surgery showed considerable dedication, especially when considering that constant rehab exercises increased the risk of further injury.

"Hebel came back and decided that she was going to put it all on the line," Gutowski sais. "When she didn't have to give anything at all, she gave 100 percent."

Why would someone risk an injury that could cause her more discomfort and immobility years down the road? Hebel notes that part of being a senior is appreciating all of the little things one normally takes for granted as an underclassman, such as "hanging out and eating brunch with the team after practice." Further, Hebel realized that above all the individual glories, being a member of the team "is about the people you meet and the relationships you form over four years." This served only as fuel in motivating her to get back on the court, and more importantly, back in the huddle with her teammates.

Hebel knew what it would take to get back. She knew how to apply her work ethic to her personal goal of playing again, but she still struggled with her personal responsibility to her team. According to Coach Kroll, Hebel's struggle was largely due to the fact that "she needed to adjust to be more flexible in how she led." Once she realized that she possessed the ability to be an individual athlete as well as a team leader, Hebel overcame her dilemma.

The one constant in Hebel's career was her work ethic. Her personal pride did not let her give up on that last chance that stared her in the eye. Hebel will never wonder "what if;" she will never look back at this past season and wonder if things would be different if she had tried just a little harder. She gave it her all, and though life will present her with many similar challenges, forcing her to find new ways to deal with new situations, Hebel has taught us all one important lesson: never give up