Fallston's Jess Harlee knew exactly what happened when she felt the pop in her left knee three weeks ago at a basketball tournament in Georgia.
She tore the anterior cruciate ligament -- a major stabilizing force in the knee and an injury that usually requires surgery and about six months of rehabilitation. Harlee will have surgery Friday.
That means she will miss at least some of her senior season -- a terrible blow for the Cougars, who went 28-0 last season and won their first state girls basketball championship in an improbable 65-62 victory over defending champion Paint Branch. A driven player known for diving for balls and sometimes crashing into the stands, Harlee scored 28 points -- 19 in the fourth quarter -- and hit two clutch free throws with 3.3 seconds remaining to lead the Cougars to the Class 3A title.
The injury, she said, apparently happened in two parts while she was playing with her Fairfax Stars Amateur Athletic Union team at the Nike Nationals. The pop came on the simplest of moves when she was off the ball.
“I actually jumped and tried to grab a steal and I twisted my knee, but I ended up going back in and playing that game. I hit a three-pointer with like 40 seconds left to go and that’s what won the game.
“I played in the next game and I was good the whole first half and in the first minute of the second half, I just took a step back and it popped. That’s when I was out. I thought it was [a torn ACL],” added Harlee, who was able to walk off the court although the knee hurt badly.
Three days later, a doctor confirmed her fears.
Harlee, who also played volleyball for the Cougars, has been helping out at volleyball practice this week, but she doesn’t relish the role of watching.
“I try to keep a positive outlook. That’s all I can do, but it’s going to be really hard to watch,” she said.
Harlee made an oral commitment to West Virginia last spring and the coaches were on hand watching her play when she got hurt. They told her, she said, that the injury would not affect her scholarship.
She does plan to get back on the court with the Cougars as soon as she can. She doesn’t want to sit out the whole year.
“I think West Virginia was hoping I would do that, but I really don’t want to. I played with one eye, so I don’t want to sit out when I know I could go back in,” said Harlee, who missed five games as a sophomore with a scratched retina.
Harlee plans to throw the same determination into her rehab that she throws into all of her games, including that state final, which few outside the No. 4 Cougars bench believed they could win.
Fallston coach Mike McTeague has most of the players back, but Harlee was certainly the centerpiece. The Cougars improved their schedule to include Archbishop Spalding and Roland Park with Harlee’s leadership in mind.
“Obviously -- and I hate to use the word kill -- but it’s going to kill us,” McTeague said. “She was leading scorer, leading rebounder, leading assist. She led in every category. She was the most talented player on the floor every time, every game. The kids looked to her and she had the leadership role.
“That being said, I think she made a huge contribution in the fact that the kids now see what can be done, they see how far they can go. There’s no replacing Jess, but last year, a couple people stepped up. We’re not going to be as good without her, but hopefully, she showed them something and they accomplished something with her that they can work on. I’m hoping she’ll be around and working with them.”