Even with injury, former Ford City basketball star contributing at Penn State
Concussions significantly altered Marisa Wolfe's college basketball career at Penn State, but they failed to stop the Ford City alum from making her most important contribution to the Lady Lions.
Wolfe, a senior forward, continues to serve as “the mother hen of the team.” She's a captain for the second time. But, because of concussion symptoms that first emerged more than a year ago, she might not step on the court this winter.
“Especially at first, it was very frustrating,” said Wolfe, whose latest bout with symptoms started during the summer. “But now, it's just kind of like I have to play my role as a captain and do what I can for the team from the sideline.”
The initial head trauma happened in a pick-up basketball game just before Wolfe's junior season. She missed the first three games, sat out for seven games in February, and did not play in a season-ending loss to Connecticut in the NCAA Sweet 16.
Her condition improved in the late spring, but during summer conditioning, symptoms returned. She has struggled since then to return to the court for strenuous, full-contact play.
When Wolfe might return is unknown. Penn State, ranked No. 9 in the country, is three games into its schedule, and a cluster of games approaches just after Thanksgiving.
A sidelined existence during the Lady Lions' home opener, a 72-61 win over Howard on Nov. 11, proved particularly difficult for the senior.
“It was harder than I expected to not dress for that first game,” Wolfe said. “But (coaches and teammates) have been really supportive.”
Wolfe reciprocates the support whenever possible. As a captain, she's already responsible for updating teammates about workouts, practices and pretty much any other team-related activities. But she also dedicates time to shaping the Lady Lions' young post players, particularly 6-foot-6 freshman and former McDonald's All-American Candice Agee.
“She also helps to make sure the kids have a voice down on the baseline,” said Kia Damon, the team's offensive coordinator and the assistant who works with wing players.
Wolfe's heart still aches when she watches the Lady Lions from the sideline. Her career once held great promise: As a freshman, she averaged 11.6 minutes per game, had a team-best 53.2 field goal percentage and grabbed 2.7 rebounds per game.
As a sophomore, she served as a part-time starter and earned the team's “Unsung Hero” award.
Just as injuries began to affect Wolfe's career, Penn State started to peak as a program. The Lady Lions found effective starters. Wolfe's minutes were limited.
Modest and practical, Wolfe did not fret.
“I think coming in, especially as a freshman, I kind of expected to not be the star,” she said. “And I just took it from there and continued on, especially now, as more of a leader.”
Damon believes Wolfe improved in that area from last season to this one.
“You can tell that Marisa is more confident now,” Damon said. “If she has to provide instruction to them or feedback, she's more direct in her communication.
“In this time that she has not been able to compete on the court physically, she has definitely sharpened her communication skills and just her overall confidence in herself to lead a group.”
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-543-1303.