Sarah Zoll anxiously waited for the start of the basketball season.
The Lawrence High School girls’ basketball team waited just as anxiously for her return.
A three-sport athlete at Lawrence, Zoll hasn’t played a game of any sort since March 16, 2016, when she tore her ACL during a lacrosse Play Day. Her knee was repaired in surgery a month later, but she missed the remainder of the lacrosse season, the AAU basketball season and soccer season while rehabilitating the injury. Zoll still supported her teams by making games and came to some practices when she wasn’t rehabbing.
“It was definitely different watching from the sidelines for that long,” Zoll said. “I really enjoyed being a part of the team. I still went. I took stats just to keep myself busy. Watching the teams when they weren’t doing well was pretty hard, but soccer had a great season and so did lacrosse so it kind of makes it easier when they’re doing well.”
It’s safe to say Zoll is happy to be back on the court.
“I’m going from being the youngest on the team last year to being one of the most experienced,” said Zoll, a 5-foot-11 junior forward for the Cardinals.
Zoll is one of two starters along with Marcedes Jones returning for Lawrence, which won eight games last year. The team graduated six seniors, including 1,000-point scorer Dominique Peters, and are looking to develop significantly through the season as they gain experience.
Prior to the start of the season, Lawrence head coach Dana Williams, heading into her eighth season, said Zoll was taking it slow in order to be ready by Opening Day, which was Dec. 16. Though she was medically cleared to practice and play, they didn’t want to take any chances.
Zoll was a key role player for the Cardinals a year ago in her first full season of varsity. She meant a lot to Lawrence—even if she wasn’t always the first player noticed, she did a lot of little things that they needed.
“Sarah, she was a quiet center,” Williams said. “You feel like she’s always one of the smartest players on the court, and next thing you know you’re doing her stats, and she got 10 rebounds. She averaged 8.3 rebounds as a sophomore. She had 21 blocks. We keep legit stats. They were blocks as a sophomore on some of these seniors at the varsity level. We were so excited that she’s only a sophomore. Even this year, she’s only a junior.”
Williams will look to Zoll to be a leader due to her mental and physical toughness, she said. Zoll worked on her upper body while she was injured and started with her legs as soon as she was medically cleared.
‘You feel like she’s always one of the smartest players on the court.’
The rest of the Cardinals’ pieces aren’t as clear-cut. Jones is back as a starter, and Destinni Myrick is a senior guard who returns from last year. The rest of the team is new to full-time varsity.
“Destinni is a senior and we’re looking for her to run the point for Erika Allen,” Williams said. “She played AAU all spring and summer. She’s looking really good. I got her in quite a bit last year so she could get that point guard experience. We moved a bunch of kids up at the end of last year.”
Sophomores on the roster are Sarah Berardi, Bonyae Bridges, Khalin Hemingway, Adeline Ripberger, Sydney Schrieiber and Gabby Toatley. Juniors include Kayla Stokes, Nia Stokes and Sianiea Ware. Amirah Hutchinson, who returned to the team after taking a year off to focus on softball, and Jana Glover are also seniors who could provide leadership.
“The beginning practices have been everyone trying to recognize what their role is going to be on the team this season,” Williams said. “The work ethic and the attitude have been phenomenal. It’s just trying to find ourselves a little bit on this new lineup.”
Zoll sat out Lawrence’s first scrimmage. She wants to help when the games count, and she is on track to do so.
“At this point, I’ve waited so long,” Zoll said. “One game doesn’t really make a big difference compared to the whole rest of the season that we have.”
There has been no rush. Lawrence needs her for the long run.
“Coming out of surgery, it was six to nine months for the outlook,” Zoll said. “Six months was right around the end of soccer season. We waited until basketball season to actually get going and start playing. Every time I went to the doctor, things were going well, so this season is a good time to get back into it.”
Returning to the court will help her get back to full speed. Zoll admits that she felt rusty from the time away. Her shot took some time to come back, but she spent some of her time away from the court just sitting and dribbling a basketball in a chair.
The process to get back to full health has tested her patience. Time seemed to pass faster in the beginning, she said.
“I was going to physical therapy and each time I saw I was getting better,” she said. “I came off crutches, then I could walk normally, then I could jump and lift weights. Then there was a lull until I could run again, a couple months out. After that, it was just running and jumping. I couldn’t do any real cutting or pivoting until two or three weeks ago.”
It all started to come back to her after she was cleared to resume all activities. She was counting down the days until she could play a real game.
Basketball has become Zoll’s favorite sport over the years. She started playing it when she was young, along with soccer. In her freshman year, she added lacrosse to her plate, but her main focus was on basketball. She played year-round AAU and enjoyed the game. She could play against her older sister, Hannah, who is a freshman playing at Haverford College after graduating from The Lawrenceville School last spring. Hannah helped Zoll when she made the jump to Lawrence’s varsity last season, especially when it came to playing against older girls.
This season, Zoll finds herself in a new role. She’s not a senior, but she has as much experience as they do. And instead of just providing rebounds and blocked shots, the Cardinals need more from her. Most notably, Zoll expects her scoring numbers to rise this season.
“I feel like last year we looked a lot to [Peters] to score, and so it’ll be a whole different dynamic without Dom,” Zoll said.
Though Zoll couldn’t play over the summer, many of her teammates did in order to prepare for bigger roles at the varsity level. Williams can point out the development for each of the players who put in time over the summer.
“It’s going to be a developmental year,” Williams said. “That can be rough sometimes, but I think with this group of kids, they’re really going to battle through and it’s still going to be a great experience. And we’re going to look to compete. We’re all very competitive. Our practices are incredibly competitive. We keep score on everything we do. It’s really those three goals, rebounding, developing and having a good time. If we do those things, we’re going to win some games this year, but that’s not our main focus.”
The Colonial Valley Conference is expected to have many of the same teams near the top of the standings with Notre Dame, Hopewell Valley and Ewing. Lawrence is looking at being in the middle of the pack.
“It’s a tough league,” Williams said. “I think we’re going to battle. Hightstown, Hamilton West, Robbinsville twice, Princeton, we have to win some of those games.”
Zoll hasn’t thought much about expectations yet. She is keeping it simple as she waits for her return to action.
“I just want to get in a game and be competitive again,” she said.
This article was originally published in the January 2017 Lawrence Gazette.