Savela returns to Indy looking for fresh start after injuries

Rose Savela (25), a 2010 Manistee graduate, battled through injuries her first two seasons with the University of Indianapolis and is hoping those problems are behind her with just two more years of basketball to play. (Photo courtesy of Steve DeMotte/University of Indianapolis athletics)

Over the last two decades, basketball has become Rose Savela’s life.

The girl who got her start shooting with a Wiffle Ball in the backyard went on to score more points than any Chippewa in history and signed a scholarship to play at the University of Indianapolis.

As much as her passion for the game has grown over the years, Savela had to reassess whether it was worth it.

Because, for the first time since basketball became as much a part of her life as anything, the game threatened to take away everything else.

There’s a difference between being hurt and being injured.

Savela never had a problem getting on the court in either situation.

The 2010 Manistee graduate gutted it out through sprains and strains, twists and pulls. So, playing through a leg injury that would eventually require two different surgeries was an easy choice — especially since it came during the middle of a strong freshman year for the Greyhounds.

Savela closed her career as a Chippewa with a litany of accolades. She set the program scoring record with 1,760 points, tied for the most 3-pointers ever made (169), was a three-time Associated Press All-State player and led Manistee to back-to-back district titles.

She carried the momentum south to Indianapolis and performed well as a freshman. Savela played in 20 games — with six starts — and scored a career-high 15 against Marygrove that November.

“I was really happy with the role I had on the team,” Savela said, “especially going through all I did to keep playing.”

Savela had Compartment Syndrome and Nerve Entrapment in her lower right leg and played the final four months in pain.

“The muscle didn’t have enough room to expand would be the easiest way to explain it,” she said. “My leg was like asleep for four months.

“That was brutal,” she added. “The first time I went to get it checked out, they said it’s either play through it or get (the surgeries) done now and it was something I could tough out.”

Despite the pain, Savela went on to post solid numbers for a freshman. She hit three 3-pointers in five separate games — 35.8 percent from beyond the arc for the season — and averaged 5.3 points per game.

And, doing it with a pair of surgeries awaiting earned Savela a lot of respect from her teammates.

“I felt I was definitely a leader within the freshmen, which were eight of our 12 kids,” she said. “That’s pretty important.”

GAME-CHANGER

Savela returned to Indianapolis last August eager to get back to work with her teammates and make a good impression on Constantin Popa, who was promoted from assistant to the head coach.

But, on the day of the first team meeting, Savela suffered an injury that couldn’t be overlooked. While playing in an open gym with teammates, she elevated for a layup and was undercut, hitting her head on the floor and suffering a concussion.

“I kind of knew right away that it was more than just a little fall,” she said.

Due to the concussion, Savela had to sit out a week, but quickly tried to return to the team. However, she could never get past riding the stationary bike.

“The worst part is it kept getting better and I’d go through the progression of coming back and all of a sudden all of the symptoms would come again,” she said. “That’s what they think took so long is I was pretty stubborn with sitting out, so it was probably my own fault — just pushing it too far.”

Insomnia, dizziness, forgetfulness and a headache for 2 1/2 months were some of the symptoms Savela encountered. But, she kept pushing ahead trying to rejoin the team until the brakes were put on.

“I was a pretty difficult case — I’m pretty sure — because I kept wanting to get back as soon as possible,” she said. “They made me sit through a video of what happens with reoccurring concussions and there’s people who are wheel chair-bound. It worked and it scared me when you start thinking you’re potentially messing up the rest of your life for a sport.”

That’s when Savela started thinking differently about basketball.

“It’s always been my life, but when it started affecting my life overall, I re-evaluated a little bit,” she said. “It definitely puts everything in perspective.”

Rose Savela played just 25 minutes last season after sitting out three months with a concussion. (Photo courtesy of Steve DeMotte/University of Indianapolis athletics)

‘BIGGEST CHEERLEADER’

After being scared straight, Savela stopping pushing her recovery so hard and eased back into it. She was cleared to fully rejoin the team just as the season started, but was way behind her teammates.

“My team had conditioned for three months and I had sat for three months,” she said. “I kind of felt like I didn’t know what I was doing out there. My mind wanted to be four steps ahead of what my body was allowing me to do. … The strength and the stamina took until at least Christmas break to get back.”

By then, Savela had a role she was unfamiliar with. The four-year starter at Manistee was the last one off the bench at Indianapolis.

“It was definitely difficult, definitely something new, but I learned how to be our biggest cheerleader,” she said. “I still enjoyed all the games and I wish I could have been out there, but I’m still on the team. There’s not much time to take pity in myself and all that kind of stuff.”

Savela appeared in just eight games as a sophomore and played only 25 minutes, scoring five points for Popa, who recruited her in high school.

“That’s one of the biggest things I had to deal with — being a nobody,” she said. “I didn’t blame them at all. (Popa’s) got a team and he’s got to work with who he has and all of a sudden I’m not really in the picture. I don’t expect him to worry about me, but that was really hard to deal with.

“I’d say we kind of got off to a rough start because we didn’t really have a start.”

FRESH START

Savela spent the summer running, lifting and shooting to prepare for her junior year and is motivated by the injuries and struggles.

“Even with all that I’ve gone through the last two years, I have still enjoyed it and all the memories I have,” she said. “I’m still motivated to play.

“It didn’t break me — it could have easily and maybe a few times almost did, but it can’t get any worse, I don’t think,” she added with a laugh. “I was not a contributor to our team and still loved every second of it.”

The elementary education major and two-time Academic All-Great Lakes Valley Conference player, is eager to capitalize on her final two years of basketball.

“This is the first time I can probably count how many games of basketball I have left in my career,” she said. “It’s not that I wasted time, but I missed out on a whole season of opportunities to play those games. It’s definitely motivating to see the end in sight.”

Savela, whose top goals are for the Greyhounds to win the GLVC and make a deep run in the NCAA Division II tournament, is confident that she can work her way back into the regular rotation.

“That’s something I think of — I contributed coming straight out freshman year and I was probably 10 pounds lighter back then and just entering the college game, which is totally different,” she said. “Even though I didn’t play last year, I practiced every day with my team and we ended up being one of the top teams in our conference. I know that I can play at that level.”

Savela left Manistee and returned to Indianapolis on Monday with the goal of being in the gym within hours of arrival. Although the concussion brought her close to walking away from the game, her passion for the sport has never wavered.

“There were times where I was thinking about the game of basketball like I had never thought about it before and that’s because it was something I’ve never gone through,” she said. “But, I’m still there, still working. I’m going to continue to love the game.”

 

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