On the road back

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Selma Times-Journal

This was supposed to be the season of Vinecia Dudley’s life.

The Wallace-Selma shooting guard had conference accolades in the rear-view mirror, and a stop at a Division-I school was right up the road.

Email newsletter signup

The Lady Patriots were winning, and they were shooting for bigger targets.

Then something strange happened to Dudley’s left ACL and her career.

“I just felt like an idiot because of the way I tore it,” Dudley said. “I wasn’t even playing. Coach (Antoinette Blevins) talked to me and tried to comfort me. It was very hard; I cried. I cried through some of the games. I was the leading scorer for the team, then they had a big downfall.”

Dudley scored 26 points in a two-point win over Lawson State in the season opener. She was jumping up and down with her teammates in a post-game celebration, and then she hit the ground and didn’t get back up. The next day, she found out her season was over.

To say WCCS missed its leader would be an understatement.

Dudley scored 18 points per game in 2006-07, was named the Region and Southern League Player of the Year in the Alabama Community College Conference and led the Patriots to a Southern League championship.

This season, the Patriots struggled to 7-19 mark without a proven leader.

“It wasn’t the same team because I had to put a lot of pressure on players that wouldn’t have had that pressure if she was on the floor,” Blevins said. “It was a shock. I didn’t think we were going to go through that. I thought we could still win the South, so I was surprised.”

The shock hit the entire team, especially because so much responsibility was heaped on so many freshmen.

The collapse wasn’t complete, however. The Patriots managed to be average or better in just about every statistical category. All they were missing was a catalyst to put them over the top.

“It shows that without a good floor leader like her, the younger players couldn’t handle it,” Blevins said. “The rest of the team wasn’t ready.”

A former standout at R.C. Hatch, Dudley isn’t used to watching games from the bench. Encouraging her teammates often became more frustrating than rewarding.

“I’d just go to all the games and let them know I still supported them, even though I couldn’t play,” Dudley said. “I tried to show some leadership and talk to them. Sometimes they would listen, but I tried.”

Dudley is 4-5 months away from a full recovery. She is ahead of schedule with her rehabilitation, and it’s not hard to imagine how she feels about that.

“I’m excited,” she said. “I’m going to try to be the leading scorer of the team again, get player of the year and win the conference and state championship next year.”

But first she has to get comfortable on the court, which is the biggest worry of all.

Blevins – whose career at the University of Minnesota ended three games into her senior season because of a knee injury – has an added amount of perspective.

“It’s better for her because she can still play,” Blevins said. “Even trying to play a pickup game is going to be a big thing for her, and going to a Division-I school, I want her to be able to play on it and it not be big thing. It’s just something you have to get used to and not think about.”