By LARRY VAUGHT
Frustrated was one of the nicer words Sacred Heart basketball player Erin Toller says describes her emotions when she tore her ACL not once, but twice in 10 months and missed the end of her sophomore season and entire junior season.
However, one person who never doubted her ability to recover was Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell. He offered her a scholarship before her first knee injury and never backed off which led to her signing with UK in November before she actually got to play in a game again.
“We were so impressed with her explosive nature and ability to score at all three levels,” Mitchell said. “She can shoot the 3, get to the basket. Just a lot of talent to be an outstanding guard for us.
“These injuries she had have become very common. We know how to handle them and we’re real confident she will have an outstanding career for us.”
In her first seven games this season the 5-6 guard, who picked UK over Tennessee and numerous others, averaged 15.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game and shot 41 percent from 3-point range in the seven wins. Her team will face South Laurel, the 13th Region favorite, in the Centria Metals/Penn Station Shootout at Franklin County Jan. 4.
Toller spent a lot of time just trying to stay in shape and focusing on eating right when she could not play. She also had to work on her attitude because she admits she was “really down” at times. Her best childhood friend dies from cancer just a few months before she tore her ACL for the first time.
“I was in beginning stage of depression. My sophomore year was probably the hardest year of my life. I did not want to be around anybody. I just wanted to be in bed, not go to school,” Toller said. “After I went to see my team play the first time, it made me really excited and happy again.”
She missed almost two weeks of school but says teachers were “helpful” and gave her extensions to finish her work.
“I have always been a studious person but I was able to keep up with what I needed to do thanks to some very understanding teachers,” Toller said.
She didn’t worry about her college options the first time she tore her ACL. She knew that injury happens to numerous female players and coaches would understand. When it happened a second time, she did worry she would lose scholarship offers.
“That’s when it really showed which coaches would really be there for me and why I chose Kentucky. They showed a lot of love for me,” Toller said.
really showed which coaches really be there for me and why I chose Kentucky they showed lot of love and recruited me even heavier after I got hurt and said I would still be a huge asset for the program. They still came to our games to watch my team play just so they could also watch me. That really impressed me.
“They weren’t worried about my skills. They knew I could play. They wanted to see if I could still be a leader while I was not playing.”
Toller says she never lost her speed but had to work on being able to change directions on the court as quick as she should before she was injured.
“My first day on the court I was just slow, could not really move at all. But my first step has always been quick and natural. I never lost that. I just had to work to get everything else back and it keeps getting better every day,” she said.
She admits she was “biting her lip” in anticipation of playing her first game this season and was more excited about this year than any season ever.
“I just have a different type of love for basketball now,” she said. “I am more driven than what I was before but my goals never changed. It’s just that my determination to succeed is over the top now.”
Before her injuries, she would have been a strong 2021 Miss Basketball candidate. She might still be but that honor is not something she worries about.
“Right now I just want to play and win state and every tournament we play,” Toller said. I haven’t even though Miss Basketball. I don’t think about rankings. I logged out of my social media so it would not be a distraction this year. I plan to stay off social media ll season. It’s hard to do but with all I’ve gone though, I should be able to do that so I can concentrate on my basketball.”