In the Second Round of the CIAC Class LL Girls Basketball Tournament, Staples forward Arianna Gerig went down.
Already sporting a bandage on her knee from an injury suffered a few games earlier, Gerig lay in the middle of the key of her home court grabbing her ankle.
She was helped off the floor, midway through the first quarter.
The trainer pulled off her sneaker and sock and went to work assessing and then taping the ankle.
Gerig’s father came from his seat across the gym to sit in the top of the bleachers behind the Staples bench.
Gerig gave her dad a thumbs up as she began testing the ankle on the sidelines.
With just under two minutes to play in the second quarter, Gerig returned to the court.
She was not the same the rest of the game, losing a step or two but continuing to battle for rebounds and play defense the best she could.
She hit a 3-pointer in the third quarter and went 3-of-4 from the free throw line in the fourth.
She finished with 8 points, one of the few times she was held under double digits all season but she was thrilled the team was moving on with a 45-41 victory.
The Wreckers were saved that day by 18 points from fellow senior Abby Carter.
In her next game, the Class LL quarterfinals, Gerig came back with force, scoring 17 points and leading the No. 1 Wreckers to a 49-42 win over Glastonbury.
For the first time since 1995, Staples was heading to the Class LL semifinals.
For a few hours, Gerig and the other four seniors on the Staples team, many of whom played together since third grade, were in ecstasy.
They were one step away from realizing their dream of playing for a state championship.
Before they could get to practice the next day, that dream ended.
In the middle of the school day, news broke that the CIAC would be canceling all remaining winter sports tournaments over concerns with the Coronavirus.
For the Staples seniors, the news almost did not seem real.
It was not supposed to end like this.
“It was heartbreaking. As a team our goal was to get to the Sun and make history at this school,” Gerig said. “To come that close and have it taken away is really hard. The worse thing for an athlete is not being able to compete. We want our careers to end either with a win or a loss but this is very unsettling. I would give anything to play.”
Gerig saying she would give anything to play is not just talk.
She missed her entire junior season after suffering a ACL injury and undergoing surgery.
Then, in the FCIAC quarterfinals, she banged knees with a Ludlowe player in the fourth quarter and had to leave the game.
Her kneecap shifted during the collision and her status moving forward was in doubt.
She was terrified with the memory of her lost junior season fresh in her mind.
Gerig went to Manhattan to meet with the doctor who performed her ACL surgery.
The doctor told her a loose patella allowed the kneecap to shift but if she could tolerate the pain, she could play.
Before the FCIAC semifinals against Greenwich, her status was in doubt all the way up to tip off.
Gerig chose to play with her knee taped, saying a brace would have been too cumbersome.
“If it wasn’t the FCIAC tournament, we probably would have rested her but she said she could play and I wasn’t going to stop her,” Staples coach Paco Fabian said. “She played great! She had 30 points and there is no way we beat Greenwich without her out there. I kept asking if she was OK and she kept telling me not to worry about it and to leave her on the floor.”
In the FCIAC finals, Staples was upset by Ridgefield ending one dream.
“That was a really tough loss but we knew it wasn’t the end,” Gerig said. “We said after FCIACs that if we won states it would make up for the FCIAC loss.”
That redemption would never come.
“It is such a hard thing. You don’t realize how many hours, days and years these seniors have put in for this program,” Fabian said. “This was the best team we were going to have with Arianna and this incredible senior class. To have it stripped away hurt for them in ways I can only begin to imagine.”
Instead of practice, the team went our for a dinner with players and coaches, Tuesday night.
The normally smiling and positive Gerig looked only sad, according to Fabian.
It was not the ending any of them wanted but like many athletes across the state it is the reality of the 2020 CIAC winter tournaments.
The physical sacrifice Gerig went through will not be forgotten by her teammates or coaches.
Neither will the countless hours she and her teammates spent working towards the goal of a championship.
Even if that championship never came.