Monday morning, Pat and Sherry entered the arena already dressed in their practice uniforms. While Sherry carried their sports bags into their offices, Pat went straight to the training room where she found her injured player sitting gloomily on an taping table. “Morning, Stacy.”
“How’s the shoulder?”
“Good. Really, Coach, it feels good.”
“You think you’re ready to play?’
Raising her injured arm above her head, Stacy replied, “Oh, yeah. I’m ready.” Her face reflected a grimace before she hid it behind a forced smile. “See?” she said through clinched teeth.
Pat frowned at the player’s attempt to hide her discomfort under false enthusiasm. “I think you need a few more days.”
“She does,” Lizzie said from across the room where she was standing in front of a tall cabinet searching through its shelves.
“Ah, come on…” Stacy protested.
Pat patted the player’s knee. “We have a long season ahead of us and I need you healthy. You’ll sit until Lizzie clears you… understood?”
Stacy sighed. “Yeah, Coach.”
Holding a box she had removed from the cabinet, Lizzie joined the coach and player. She set the box down on the table then opened it. “While you’re at practice, I want you to wear this,” she said pulling a sling from the box.
“What for?” Stacy asked suspiciously.
“So you don’t get any ideas about trying to play until that shoulder has time to heal.” She slipped what looked like a wrist support on Stacy’s injured arm then wrapped a belt around her waist and hooked the wrist support to the belt. “Comfy?”
“This will keep you from moving that shoulder too much,” Lizzie explained adjusting the sling. “I know it’s uncomfortable,” she told the unhappy player, “but it will help you to get back on the court. That bruise is nasty but I’m more concerned about the muscle strain. So be a good girl for the next day or two.”
“Okay,” Stacy acquiesced with an exaggerated sigh. She checked out the sling then looked sadly up at her coach.
“Can she use her other arm?” Pat asked the team trainer.
Lizzie picked up the empty box. “As long as there’s not a ball in it.”
“Good. I’ve got a job for you,” Pat told Stacy. “I’m putting Jackson into your spot—”
“Ah, Coach, you don’t need to activate Jackson… I’ll be ready to play Thursday.”
“I don’t doubt that but you’re not the only post player we have with problems and I need Jackson up to speed. I want you to sit in the stands today and focus on Jackson—note what she does right and what she does wrong. You’ll be another set of eyes for me… can you do that?”
“Sure, Coach,” Stacy replied unenthusiastically looking down at the floor.
“I’ll get you something to take notes on. And Stacy,” the coach waited until the player looked up at her, “this is important… got it?”
“I got it, Coach. You don’t have to worry, I’ll take good notes.”
Pat smiled. “I wasn’t worried for a moment. Ready to join the team?”
Stacy hopped down from the table. “You bet,” she replied with a grin.
“Morning, ladies,” Pat greeted the players sitting at mid-court in the first few rows of arena seats. Sherry and Kelley were standing off to her side, holding clipboards. “I hope everyone enjoyed your weekend off.”
“Sure did, Coach,” Val responded and several others eagerly agreed.
Pat grinned. “Good… because you will be working your butts off the next couple of days.” She waited for the expected, but good natured, groans to fade. “Okay, now down to business. We fly to Boston Wednesday afternoon. That’s going to cut our practice time short this week. So to make up for that, practice today and tomorrow will be two hours longer.” This time the groans weren’t as affable. “As you can see, Stacy will probably be unable to play until Thursday’s game; Jackson will take her place until then.” She paused seeing the smile on the rookie’s face. “That means you have to step it up, Jackson. We’re making a lot of changes for this game and you better be able to keep up.”
Jackson shrugged her shoulders. “No problem, Coach,” she said casually.
Pat glared at the rookie. “We’ll see… won’t we?” She returned her attention to the rest of the team. “Okay, Boston likes to do two things that we have to stop if we’re going to beat them. One, they pride themselves on their defensive rebounding. They are best in the league at preventing teams from getting multiple opportunities at baskets. We must control the boards… both on offense and defense. And, two, they overload the key so that they are in position for take-aways. If you get an offensive rebound and put the ball on the floor in the key, chances are they will knock it away from you. So, we’re going to focus on boxing out on rebounds and putting the ball back up without needing a dribble. For some of you, that won’t be a problem… for others, it’s going to be a major change. Post players… Coach Stockley will work with you this morning on rebound positioning.”
Kelley stepped up beside Pat. “Shall we?” she motioned for the post players to join her at the far end of the court.
Pat nodded to Stacy then watched as she stood and followed Kelley’s group. “For the rest of you,” Pat continued after Kelley and the group of players had moved away, “we are going to work on a way to stop Boston’s key shooter— Stephens takes over fifty percent of their team’s shots… and she makes a lot of them.”
“She’s a hard one to stop, Coach,” Latesha said.
“Yes, she is. But we are going to do it by double teaming her for the entire game. That means a lot of switching defense and trading off with players substituting in and out. That way, we’ll have the fresh legs and she won’t.”
“She’s not going to like that,” Pete said with a chuckle.
Pat smiled. “I know. Okay, let’s get started.”
During the lunch break, Jackson tapped on the door frame of Pat’s office. “You wanted to see me, Coach?”
Pat looked up from the pages she was reading and nodded. “Sit,” she said pointing to the pair of chairs in front of her desk. She gathered up the loose pages into a neat pile and set them to the side. Then leaning back in her chair, she addressed the rookie. “I hear you were in taking shots this weekend.”
Casually slumped in one of the chairs, Jackson peered back at her coach. “Figured with Stacy hurt and Tonie’s bad knees, you were going to need me in the lineup,” she said smugly.
Pat studied the rookie. “You are a cocky one aren’t you?”
“I just tell it like it is,” Jackson shot back. “You must be planning to activate me… why else am I in Stacy’s spot today?”
“No decision has been made to activate you,” Pat paused when it looked like the rookie was going to object then, when she didn’t, Pat continued, “Just so you know, I fully expect Stacy will be in uniform Thursday night. Now, let’s address how you’re doing,” she said pulling a sheet of paper off the top of the neatly stacked pile. Although, she already knew the information the page contained, she made an act of reading it to see if the rookie’s demeanor would change. She grinned inwardly when, after a few moments, Jackson began to fidget. “You played well today,” she started in an encouraging tone. “You adjusted to the new plays. And you worked well with your teammates.” Pat placed the paper face down on her desk. “But,” her tone turned serious, “you’re still having problems rebounding.”
“I thought I did okay.”
“Okay doesn’t cut it on this team,” Pat informed the rookie forcefully. “You are one of the tallest players out there and you’re losing rebounds to players half a foot shorter than you.”
Jackson immediately straightened in the chair, her posture now rigid as she glared at the head coach.
Pat leaned back studying the rookie. “Do you have something you want to say?” she finally asked.
Jackson forced her body to relax. “I’ll work on the rebounding, Coach,” she said after taking several deep breaths. “I can stay longer tonight if Coach Gallagher has time to work with me.”
Pat gazed quizzically at the player. “I’ll see if Coach Stockley can give you the extra time.” Pat pondered if she should say more then, deciding it couldn’t hurt, she asked, “I don’t suppose you’d like to share what has your knickers constantly knotted up?”
“Nothing to share, Coach,” Jackson replied pushing up from the chair. “Can I go?”
Pat nodded. “Yeah, you can go,” she told the rookie.
Pat walked out of the corridor a few minutes after Jackson had rejoined her teammates. She headed for mid-court where her assistant coaches were running the players through one of the new plays designed for the upcoming game.
“How’d it go?” Sherry asked.
Pat shrugged. “I don’t know—one minute, she’s throwing nothing but attitude at me; the next, it’s almost like she’s afraid she can’t live up to her own bluster,” she answered. “Can you give me another hour tonight?” she asked Kelley. “Jackson needs the extra time to work on rebounding and boxing out.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Kelley blurted out in surprise. “How’d you get her to agree to that?”
“It was her idea,” Pat explained. “She wants to be activated. She was even in here over the weekend taking shots.”
“Will wonders never cease,” Sherry muttered.
“I can stick around. Coach,” Kelley said.
“Thanks.” Pat watched the action on the court for a moment then turned back to her assistants. “They look good,” she commented.
“They’ve been working pretty hard,” Sherry responded.
“It shows. But, now, they’re going to have work even harder,” Pat said lifting her whistle to her lips. “Take five,” she called to the players when they turned toward her. “Get some liquid because we’re going to be running full court the rest of the day.”
As the full court scrimmage began, Pat, Hudson, Killen, Terry, and Karam were playing offense with Pat taking the role of Stephens, the Boston shooting guard. Sherry, Val, Ashley, Jade, and Jackson were working on defense.
Sherry and Val closely guarded Pat as she dribbled across mid-court.
Pat kept one eye on her defenders and one eye on her teammates.
Killen was at the top of the key running a crossing pattern with Jackson tracking her. Terry was working the bottom of the key with Jade doing a good job of keeping position between Terry and the ball preventing any possible pass to the low post player. Karam was moving to the left of the key being guarded by Ashley.
Pat took two quick steps forward then abruptly stopped. Sherry and Val didn’t react quick enough and, momentarily free of her defenders, she fired a pass to Hudson who was unguarded on the right side of the key.
Hudson caught the pass then immediately jumped up from the floor to take an undefended shot.
The ball dropped cleanly through the net as Pat blew her whistle. “First lesson about double teaming,” the coach addressed her players. “If one player is double teamed then one player is most likely going to be unguarded. That is why you are supposed to be switching off on defense and not playing man-to-man. Jackson, you don’t follow Killen wherever she goes… you defend your part of the court. Same thing with you, Ashley. Because you two weren’t in position, Hudson was left wide open. Defend your area… not the player. It’s important that you need to protect your zone at all times… if you don’t you’re going to leave someone open and Stephens will find them. Got it?”
“Got it, Coach,” came the boisterous response.
“Good, let’s try again,” Pat said backpedaling to the end of the court.
“Damn, this is going to be hard,” Val said following her coach. “Full court double team for the entire game.”
Pat smiled. “If I didn’t think we could do it, I wouldn’t be asking it of you.”
“I appreciate the confidence, Coach,” Val said. “I just hope my legs last.”
“That’s why we’ll be switching out a lot.”
Before her player could respond, Pat blew her whistle and started up court with Sherry and Val right beside her.
Sitting on one of the benches lined along the wall at the end of the arena, Sherry glanced up at the arena clock and smiled noting that the extended practice was almost over.
Pete dropped onto the bench, panting heavily. “Four hours of full court press and I’m ready to collapse.”
“Getting old?” Sherry teased with a grin.
“Yes,” Pete agreed without complaint then tilted her head back lifting her water bottle up to her lips.
“Sherry, you’re in for Hudson,” Kelley called out.
“Good luck,” Pete said as Sherry stood.
Sherry trotted to take up her position at the end line where Pat was preparing to start another play. “Okay, let’s do this. Karam, Killen, remember to switch off when your players cross in the key. Don’t let them take you out of position.”
“Got it, Coach,” Killen shouted back down the court.
Pat blew her whistle and started dribbling toward the far end of the court.
Immediately joined by Amie, Sherry pressed close to Pat; the pair of guards working together to disrupt Pat’s progress.
Moving the ball from hand-to-hand, changing directions, and dribbling between her legs, Pat managed to use her ball skills to separate herself from her defenders just long enough to get off a bounce pass to Dimchek.
Sherry dropped off Pat to guard Dimchek while Amie continued to guard her coach.
Dimchek dribbled to the top of the key before passing the ball back to Pat who had worked away from Amie’s defense near the right side of the three point arc.
Following the pass, Sherry charged toward Pat to help Amie struggling to maintain position between the ball handler and the basket.
Pat dribbled a few feet closer to the basket then left her feet for a jump shot over Amie’s defense.
Sherry increased her speed. Nearing Pat, she leaped into the air in an attempt at blocking the shot. Her efforts unsuccessful, she came back down to the floor, landing hard. “Damn,” she muttered watching the ball drop through the basket. “I sure hope Stephens isn’t as quick as you are,” she told the grinning head coach.
“I played against her in college,” Amie said breathing hard. “I think Coach has a good step or two on her.”
“Let’s hope you’re right,” Sherry said.
Pat blew her whistle. “Let’s call it a night, ladies.” Receiving no objections, she continued, “anyone wanting more time to work on rebounding and boxing out, stick around. Everyone else… hit the showers. We have another long day tomorrow so go home and get plenty of sleep.”
“Think I’ll hit the whirlpool first,” Pete muttered heading for the corridor to the locker room.
“Right there, with you,” Val agreed trotting beside her teammate.
Her energy depleted after the long practice, Sherry bent over at the waist trying to catch her breath.
“You okay?” Pat asked placing a hand on Sherry’s shoulder.
“Yeah,” Sherry said starting to straighten back up. “Uh oh,” she exclaimed swaying as the room spun in front of her eyes; her body tilted toward the floor.
“Hey,” Pat cried out in alarm, her arms wrapping around Sherry to stop her from falling. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m not sure,” Sherry responded, closing her eyes against the whirling arena. “I think I need to sit down.”
Lizzie ran up to the women, slipped an arm around Sherry’s waist, and, with Pat, helped her across the floor to a bench.
“What happened?” Lizzie asked kneeling in front of the lightheaded player.
“I must be dehydrated or something,” Sherry said shakily, her eyes still closed. “I got dizzy when I straightened up.”
“Why are your eyes closed?” Pat asked.
“To stop the room from spinning,” Sherry explained.
“Can you open your eyes?” Lizzie asked.
Sherry slowly complied and gave the trainer a weak grin when she saw the room had stopped spinning. “Sorry,” she told the players standing about the court watching her anxiously. “Just a little dizzy,” she tried to relieve their worries.
“Drink this,” Lizzie pressed a bottle of Gatorade into Sherry’s hand.
Cautiously tilting her head back, Sherry took a swallow of the cold liquid then rested her head against the wall behind the bench. “Oh, boy, that was weird,” she muttered before taking another drink.
Pat sat down on the bench beside Sherry. “Feeling better?” she asked nervously.
Sherry turned to her upset lover. “Much,” she said. “Go on with practice… I’ll be fine.”
Pat shook her head. “I don’t think—”
“Pat,” Sherry cut off the objection she knew to be coming. “If I was any other player, you would not be thinking what you’re thinking. You’re a coach and you’ve got players waiting. Go on… it was just a little dizzy spell… I’ll be fine.”
“I can handle things, Coach,” Kelley offered.
Pat sighed. “No, Sherry’s right,” she admitted to her assistant. “Get the players organized… I’ll be there in a minute.”
Kelley gave Sherry a supportive pat on the knee then left to focus on the rest of the team. After assuring them that Sherry was alright, she gathered the players staying for more practice and shooed the others into the locker room.
“You don’t move from here until Lizzie says its okay,” Pat ordered Sherry.
“Pat, I can help you and Kelley.”
“No,” Pat insisted. “Don’t argue with me… your day is finished.” She stood. “Take care of her.”
“That’s my job, Coach,” Lizzie agreed taking Pat’s spot on the bench.
With a concerned look at Sherry, Pat turned then walked toward Kelley and the remaining players.
Several minutes passed while Sherry and Lizzie sat quietly watching Pat and Kelley work with the players.
“Have you had these dizzy spells before?” Lizzie finally broke the silence.
“No,” Sherry instantly replied.
Lizzie turned to look at the player. “Really?”
Sherry frowned. “Okay, maybe a couple of times,” she confessed. “But never this bad,” she insisted.
Sherry sighed. “Once here… I was sitting in the stands taking notes and I bent over to pick up my water bottle. And at home—”
“When you bent over?”
Sherry thought for a moment. “Yeah… now that you mention it, it always seems to happen after I bend over.”
“When is the last time you had a follow up on your concussion?” Lizzie asked.
“Sherry, you fell on your head last year… remember?”
“That’s a hard thing to forget,” Sherry answered reflexively raising a hand to the back of her head and rubbing the spot.
“When is the last time you were checked out for it?”
“When it happened,” Sherry answered confused by the trainer’s questions. “What’s the big deal?”
“The big deal is you had a concussion... and a pretty serious one.”
“But that was last year. I’m sure this is nothing serious.”
“Sherry, symptoms from concussions can take years to show up. And they can last for years.”
“I’m fine,” Sherry protested.
“No, you’re not. You get dizzy when you bend over. What else? Vision problems?”
Sherry slumped against the wall. “No… just dizziness,” she muttered. “I thought I was just tired.”
“That may be all it is,” Lizzie said quietly. “Or, it could be a sign of something more serious. I want you to see your doctor and I want you to be honest with her. She may recommend you see a neurologist.”
“I’m okay,” Sherry said firmly. “I don’t need to see a brain doctor.”
“Sherry, this isn’t something you can choose to do or not. This is official.”
“You’re putting it in writing.”
Lizzie nodded. “Until you’re cleared by your doctor—”
“You can’t do that,” Sherry exclaimed. “We have a game in three days.”
“Which you may not be playing in,” Lizzie bluntly stated.
“Dammit, that’s uncalled for.”
“Hate me all you want,” Lizzie told the irate player, “but it’s for your own good.”
“What’s going on here?” Pat asked after running up to see what had caused Sherry’s angry outburst.
Lizzie stood up. “Sherry’s off the court as of right now,” she informed the coach.
“What?” Pat snapped. “Until when?”
“Until she’s cleared by a doctor. You’ll have my report on your desk in an hour,” she added.”
“What the hell? Lizzie, you can’t do this.”
“I can and I have. Take it up with Mac if you don’t like the way I do my job,” Lizzie told the upset coach before storming across the floor toward the corridor and her office.
“It’s okay, Pat,” Sherry said reaching out to stop her lover from following the trainer. “Sit down… please.”
Pat complied. “What is she talking about?” she asked agitatedly.
“She thinks I need my head examined,” she said then laughed when her lover’s head whipped around to stare at her in shock. “I didn’t just grow horns or something, did I?”
“What did you say?”
“She thinks my dizzy spells are an after effect of my concussion,” Sherry explained.
“Spells?” Pat asked warily. “As in more than one?”
“This has happened before?”
“Once or twice… don’t look at me like that,” Sherry pleaded. “They didn’t seem that bad… I just got dizzy a couple of times when I bent over. And it was never as bad as today.”
Sighing loudly, Pat leaned back against the wall. “So, what does Lizzie want you to do?” she asked reaching for Sherry’s hand. Practice or no practice, she need the reassurance of her lover’s touch.
Sherry relaxed when their fingers intertwined. “See Jillian. Tell her what’s been happening and see if she thinks I need to see a specialist.”
“Ah.” Pat squeezed Sherry’s fingers. “Then we better give Jillian a call and make an appointment for the morning.”
“You really think she can see me that soon?”
Pat grinned. “Oh, she’ll see you alright… or I’ll have her season tickets cancelled.”
Sherry chuckled. “You wouldn’t.”
“Yes, I would,” Pat said pulling Sherry’s hand to her mouth and gently kissing it.
Sherry rested her head on Pat’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, honey. I screwed up. I should have been paying attention and gone to see Jillian before. Now, I’ve put you and the team in a bad spot.”
Pat twisted on the bench to plant a kiss on Sherry’s head. “Sweetheart, I don’t care if you ever play another game,” she told her lover, “but I do care if something is wrong in your pretty little head. So, you will have your head examined first thing tomorrow morning.”
“You say such sweet things,” Sherry teased.
“That’s why you love me, isn’t it?”
“So true,” Sherry agreed. “I think we better break this up,” she said after a moment.
“Because we’re violating our rule about showing affection at work.”
“I don’t care.”
“Half the team is gawking at us.”
“That I do care about,” Pat said standing up. “Take it easy for the next hour. Then we’ll go home and spend a few hours in the hot tub.”
“Best offer I’ve had all day,” Sherry said also standing. “I’ll be in the office… I’m going to see if I can catch Jillian before she leaves for the day. And I need to apologize to Lizzie.”
“Guess I owe her one of those, too,” Pat said before trotted over to rejoin Kelley and the players. “Did I miss practice being called to an end?” she asked the players standing idly about the court. “Get your butts in motion,” she barked then blew a sharp blast on her whistle.
To Be Continued...
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