GARDNER — Hope never gave up hope.
Three ACL surgeries on the same right knee in a span of two years was certainly enough reason to find a new dream.
Not Hope Nester.
“To know that it can be possible,” Nester said. “ I left that with Coach (Karen) Miller knowing that if you put in the time and you work hard enough, then you can achieve goals.”
Nester certainly did. The PikeView senior, who had to miss her entire senior season due to that same knee, will play on, having signed a letter of intent to continue her education and play basketball at West Virginia State.
“I dreamed about this since I was a little girl so for this to happen is awesome,” Nester said. “I knew even though my knee has been a battle for me I knew that one day I would be able to do it again and for me to be able to get a scholarship and do something that I love is just amazing.”
Nester will play for West Virginia State, which finished 19-12 last season, while playing the Mountain East Conference. The Yellow Jackets eventually advanced to the East Coast Athletic Conference semifinals before falling to Bluefield State.
"It is actually a relief, I worked so hard, I just played so much basketball and then to actually get this opportunity, it is just a relief,” Nester said. “It just kind of fits me for everything I was looking for.
“There are two girls that play that I played AAU with so for me to be able to play with them again was a big factor, and then it fit me as a student and athlete.”
No one was happier for Nester, who was a two-time All-Class AA honoree, including picking up first team honors as a junior, than PikeView head coach Karen Miller.
All Nester did for Miller and the PikeView program was help lead the Panthers to three straight Class AA state tournament appearances, falling one game short without her on the court in March.
“I tell you what, I am just thankful and grateful that she is getting this opportunity to play at the next level,” Miller said. “This is her dream and I just thank God that He is allowing her to play college ball.
“West Virginia State is getting a hard worker, a person that is going to do anything and everything.”
It wasn’t an easy path for Nester, who was also a talented soccer player, having held the West Virginia state record for goals scored in a season. Soccer was fun, but basketball as one of the state’s best point guard was her passion. Just ask Miller.
"I think she will be able to help them at the point position and the 2-guard position,” Miller said. “She is going to give everything she has got because she loves the game.
“I think when she was born she was born to play basketball. She is a tough competitor and I am just so happy for her.”
The desire to play basketball brought Nester plenty of frustration over the last two seasons. She first injured her right knee during a summer camp at Concord prior to her junior year. Surgery followed, but she was able to play the next season, helping the Panthers get back to Charleston for a third straight year.
“The program kind of turned around here at PikeView when we ended up going to state,” Nester said. “We had never been there before, and for us to be able to go three years in a row, that was an experience.”
Nester, who tweaked the injury some during her junior season, actually required two surgeries on the same knee after stepping in a hole during a soccer scrimmage last fall
Any hopes of playing basketball as a senior came to an end.
“I had three ACL repairs so usually the recovery for that is six months so you can’t play for six months,” Nester said. “After you do that three times that is like a year and a half you are out of basketball.
“I feel like I have been doing rehab and therapy the last year and a half because it has just happened so much. You just have to stay with it, you have got to know if you keep working and keep going hard you will be able to get back on the court.”
It was only natural to wonder if college basketball was meant to be.
“Of course I had some doubts that maybe it wasn’t going to be possible anymore,” Nester said. “Even pro basketball players, they have injuries and some of them never come back and some of them never recover from it.
“To know that if you keep working and you do it hard enough and you strive to do it, you can overcome it, you can be back.”
She is. Miller didn’t have the services of Nester as a senior, but she certainly did proud, passing the 1,000-point barrier and earning a pair of all-state honors in three seasons for the Panthers.
“I am just thankful and grateful that she is getting this opportunity and they are getting a really good hard worker and a very good Christian young lady,” Miller said. “We are going to miss her, I have been sad all year for her, but I am happy for her today...
“She has done more in three years and than most people can do in four years. That is unreal.”
Her dream lives on.
“I don’t know why God gave me not one, not two, but three knee surgeries,” Nester said. “I might not ever know why, but I know that there is a reason for it and it is a great feeling that I actually know that after all of this you are still able to accomplish something like this.”
So many young athletes face similar obstacles, and some need the reassurance that continuing on in their chosen field is still possible. Nester hopes her ordeal will serve as inspiration for others.
“I think a lot of people are going to go through stuff in their lives, whether it is even basketball or injuries or even if it not sports related,” said Lester, who will major in business, with the eventual goal of opening a beauty salon. “I know people that are going to go through stuff, but to know that you can get through it and you can still do what you want and live your dreams, hopefully I have inspired somebody along the way.”
There is no doubt about it. Once again, Miller has been a witness to her climb from heartbreak to fulfilling her dreams.
“The thing I like about her is she is a Christian young lady and she loves God,” Miller said. “We missed her this year and I think we could have done a lot better, but I think God had another plan for her.
“I have been sad all year for her, but today I am happy for her.”
— Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org