Woods back from injury early to help Wildcats

By Joshua Kinder

As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the recovery time for a torn Achilles tendon is 12 months.

Unless you’re Ashia Woods.

Staff photo by Sarah Midgorden(Kansas State junior Ashia Woods shoots over a UC Santa Barbara defender on Dec. 15 at Bramlage Coliseum. Woods and the Wildcats are hosting No. 9 Baylor tonight at 7).

The Kansas State junior defied the odds when she returned to the basketball court at the end of November, just nine months removed from tearing her left Achilles during practice last January.

The Wildcats, who host ninth-ranked Baylor tonight at 7, welcomed Woods’ early return. She’s been nothing short of exceptional, either, reaching double figures three times through her first seven games — including six starts.

“She’s better than she was,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “Her emotional competitiveness, resolve, desire and investment are all in. And it’s only been nine months, so there’s going to be a little rust there, but you can’t tell.”

Woods is averaging a career-best 9.3 points per game, 4.7 rebounds a game and her 16 steals are second on the team. She scored a season-high 16 points in her first game back against SMU on Nov. 28, grabbed five steals against UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 15 and then had four more takeaways and eight rebounds against UC Riverside this past Monday.

“I was so excited and nervous after not playing basketball for so long — I had only practiced four or five days before that first game,” Woods said. That was my first contact, so I was nervous to see what would happen. I’ve surprised myself some that I haven’t been so shy and hesitant out there after the long layoff.”

Woods has surprised a lot of people, starting with her quick recovery from an Achilles tear that has almost always been considered a one-year injury because of the high likelihood of setbacks along the way.

“Dr. (William) Jones, the surgeon, is absolutely phenomenal and Luke Sauber and the approach he took with Ashia’s rehab and with Ashia from A to Z — the emotional components, the physical component, the picture of the rehab, the read-and-react each day to the responses — were absolutely phenomenal.

“The relationship between Luke and Dr. Jones was outstanding. And the investment Luke made as a trainer, with the trust level Ashia had in him, how he challenged her, the work element involved, the grind, and the very significant, slow and safe approach that you have to take, while also gaining ground, was really impressive.”

Patterson was especially nervous about Woods following the injury. Devastating season-ending injuries can really shake a player’s mindset. Patterson didn’t know which direction the Wichita native would go.

“I was very concerned about where she would go mentally, from the beginning of the injury and the first four or five months,” she said. “But, boy, it was a triad. It really was — the physician, Luke and Ashia — and they all did what needed to be done at the highest level. And did it with the utmost caution.”

So far so good for Woods, who instantly provided the Wildcats with added depth and experience the young team needs. But as good as Woods has been early on, there have been some lasting effects from the surgery.

“I know I’m not as explosive as I was and that I’m playing with pain, but its getting better,” she said. “Like pushing off my left side, it’s not as quick as it used to be. As far as my running, it takes a little bit to build up, but once I’m going, I feel like its there.

“It’ll ache a lot after practice and games. But other than that, I’ll just play through it because I know it’s healed — it’s three times thicker than my good one.”

Patterson said Woods has been doing a better job anticipating on the court than she did before the injury, relying less on the athleticism that made her such a dynamic force out of Wichita Collegiate.

“When you become a player who compensates with intelligence and anticipation, you can make up for whatever you may have lost,” she said. “She’s a very smart player with a great basketball IQ and instincts. Now, she’s putting that into the equation of who she is at a higher level and not relying just on her athleticism.

“I look at Ashia now as one of the most consistent leaders we have on the floor and she and Leti (Romero) have, far and away, the best basketball IQs on the floor.“m going, I feel like its there.

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