Whenever an athlete suffers a serious injury, it's critical to focus on making the situation as positive as possible.
Just ask Lakeside High School girls basketball coach Maureen McCormack.
"You have to think of it that way, or else you will let it devastate you," she said.
It's a mindset that has helped the Panthers develop as standout guard Carolyn Hennecken recuperates.
During last season's region tournament, Hennecken tore her ACL.
The Panthers had secured the first state playoff berth in program history, but the injury left the team reeling a bit for the first-round game against Statesboro, which ended in a double-digit defeat.
Lakeside had to make up for Hennecken's roughly 15 points, six rebounds and five assists per game.
Still, the injury provided an opportunity for the senior's teammates.
She attempted to come back for Lakeside's season opener this year, but felt pain in the knee and ultimately was not ready for full-speed action.
Instead of forcing the issue, Hennecken decided to sit out and focus on strengthening it. She and McCormack set a new target date of Jan. 7, the start of region play, though she got experience in the Robolli's Christmas Classic in late December.
While she was out, guards Cassie Bryant and Bria Baker got much more playing time than they would have otherwise.
Meanwhile, senior Tishal Turknett got invaluable experience running the point.
"It had her seeing a different vision of the game, really trying to become more of a leader and communicator," McCormack said.
All the while, Hennecken was working on what she saw as a weakness in her game. She had always relied on her keen ability to drive to the basket. The injury altered her expectations.
"My outside shot, I didn't have much confidence in it," Hennecken noted. "Coming back from the injury ... I didn't think I was going to be as quick or explosive off that leg.
"So I worked on my outside shot ever since I could," she said. "I've been working on it a lot, so my outside shot is so much better. It's one motion; it's smoother."
As it turned out, the spring has almost fully returned, making her a multifaceted threat.
McCormack says Hennecken has always had a unique knack for scoring when Lakeside needs it the most, when the Panthers have gone cold for several possessions.
Now, she's even more dangerous in that role.
"She does such a good job on the drive, but she can be deadly from the 3-point line," McCormack said. "And I think that's what helps her. People know they have to challenge her on the shot."
With Hennecken's teammates gaining more experience, Turknett getting a chance to run the point, and Hennecken coming back strong, the Panthers are contenders for the Region 2-AAAA crown.
Hennecken said she hopes the Panthers build on the success from last season.
Before then, she will be trying to play catch-up on the college recruiting trail after missing the summer before her senior year. McCormack said she is getting tapes to programs that have expressed interest.
For now, Hennecken is just glad to be off the bench and in the game.
"I won't say I didn't feel like a part of the team, but it was definitely kind of weird," she said.
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