Barbara Shudlick recalls the moment as though she would trade everything to go back and relive it.
Her two youngest daughters — Linda, then a first grader, and Susan, who was in kindergarten — were competing on opposing teams in a boys’ basketball league at the YMCA in Albert Lea, Minn.
“Of course, Susan went down the court the wrong way and scored, making a basket for the other team,” Barbara said.
But Susie, as her mom refers to her, was scattered among the little boys and seemed oblivious to the mishap.
“She just continued to dribble the ball like her big sister Linda,” Barbara said.
Nearly 15 years later, Linda and Susan find themselves sharing another athletic bond as teammates on the Gophers volleyball team. However, this time it’s the older sister searching for guidance from her younger sister, after Linda underwent surgery in May to repair a torn ACL.
“The day after the surgery I don’t think Susan left the hospital room,” Linda said. “I was in and out of the comatose state, but when I looked over she was there.”
In late April, Linda participated in a spring practice scrimmage. The junior middle blocker was coming down from a block when every aspiration she had for the upcoming season was suddenly tossed aside.
“When I came down, my body was kind of twisted one way,” Linda said. “When I landed, I landed just right and it popped out.”
Despite severe pain in her left knee, Linda displayed the maturity expected as one of only three veteran players on the team by picking herself up off the gym floor and walking to the trainer’s room. That was where she realized the injury would require more than athletic tape and ice.
“I kind of lost it. I kind of broke down once I got into the training room,” Linda said. “I knew what had happened and I knew how long I would be out.”
The career-threatening diagnosis didn’t take long. Gophers coach Mike Hebert learned before the practice was over that he would have to prepare for the 1998 season without his best middle blocker.
Aside from Linda, Hebert took the news as hard as anyone. Not only was he devastated because Linda had “arrived as a player,” but because he was her coach.
“You’re the one running practice and you’re the one making people jump and dive into the floor,” Hebert said. “So when somebody gets hurt you always think, `Well, did I ask them to do too much?'”
Nearly sixth months later, it’s Linda pushing to do more. Ahead of the rehabilitation schedule, the middle blocker is back in practice resting only from high-impact drills. Despite the quick recovery, Linda will maintain the medical redshirt for what was supposed to be her senior season.
While Susan feels a void on the court, she realizes Linda’s absence affects the entire team.
“She had a big impact on people when we were playing,” Susan said. “Linda’s older and has been through all of it and knows how to work through things. I think that’s what’s missing.”
In the meantime, Linda concentrates on the positive aspects of being sidelined. Separated by only 13 months, Linda and Susan have grown closer over the rehabilitation period.
“She’s always saying, `You’re doing a good job,'” Linda said. “She makes me stronger.”
Perhaps the most rewarding compensation for the lost season is that Linda and Susan will both be honored during senior night when the 1999 season rolls around. For the Shudlicks, it represents an extra year to watch their daughters create memories like that day long ago at the YMCA.
“It’ll be real exciting,” Barbara said. “It’s picture perfect.”