Right around the time the ball dropped to usher in a new year, Saylor Poffenbarger felt a familiar twinge.
This one occurred in her left hip, as opposed to her freshman year at Middletown High School when her right hip started nagging her in much the same way.
Poffenbarger didn’t rush to the doctor’s office. There was no need, she felt. All signs pointed to this being a familiar foe, one she had already conquered once and one she was confident she could at least manage until addressing it at a later, more-convenient time.
There were broader implications about what a trip to see the doctor might mean.
The Middletown girls basketball team was in hot pursuit of its first state championship since 2006, and Poffenbarger, the team’s star player and a University of Connecticut recruit, was determined to remain a part of that quest.
“I knew she could handle the pain,” said her mother, Amy, who coaches the team. “Saylor has a super high pain tolerance when things are really bad. When she breaks a nail or gets a paper cut, that’s when things get tougher for her.”
Roughly seven months later, Poffenbarger is as good as new, or as she put it, “a 17-year-old with two new hips.”
When she tore the labrum in her right hip, while playing through the injury, as a freshman at Middletown, she was warned by her doctor that she may eventually face the same problem on the left side.
And, sure enough, that’s what happened.
So, after gritting her teeth for more than two months as she led Middletown to the Class 2A state semifinals for the second consecutive year, Poffenbarger had the injury surgically repaired at the end of April, almost two years to the day after her previous surgery.
As Saylor pushed through the pain, Amy Poffenbarger said the injury was noticeable on the court.
“I think it impacted her shooting,” Amy Poffenbarger said. “You could just tell that her 3-point shot was different, probably because she was compensating for [the bad hip].”
But, now, the pain and most of the constraints are gone after two months of an ongoing rehab process that has included a lot of stationary shooting and dribbling.
Working out in a pool and other light exercises have also helped along the recovery process.
Saylor will see her doctor again in early July and is hoping to receive clearance to begin running again.
“By the grace of God, this all happened during the quarantine,” Amy Poffenbarger said. “She really hasn’t missed a thing.”
The coronavirus pandemic wiped out whatever was left of Middletown’s basketball season, the remaining months of her junior year of high school and whatever Saylor Poffenbarger was going to do with USA Basketball this summer.
Last summer, she averaged seven points, four rebounds and nearly four assists per game in helping the U.S. under-16 national team win a gold medal in Chile.
Poffenbarger was most distraught for her senior teammates at Middletown, Melanie Pick and Kathryn Pusey, who had their high school careers prematurely end two wins away from a state title.
“That would be really tough to accept,” Poffenbarger said after playing with those seniors for most of her life.
However, the reality of COVID-19 hit home when one of Poffenbarger’s coaches outside of the school was diagnosed with it.
“It made me realize there is more important stuff going on in the world than playing basketball and winning games,” she said.
In early May, Poffenbarger was named Ms. Maryland Basketball by the Maryland Basketball Coaches Association after averaging 21.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists for Middletown on the way to the state semifinals.
And it’s been nearly a year since she fulfilled a dream by committing to UConn as one of the top 20 recruits (No. 17) in the country for the Class of 2021, according to ESPN.
Naturally, she kept Huskies coach Geno Auriemma and his staff apprised of her injury from start to finish, and they were very supportive throughout the process.
“Once I get cleared to run, the rest of my rehab is really up to me in terms of what I can do,” Poffenbarger said.