There are times when the sport of choice can be cruel. No one knows that better than PikeView junior Hope Nester.
Nester was playing in a basketball game at Concord last summer when an opponent hit the side of her knee, tearing her ACL, MCL and the meniscus in her knee.
Normally, that is an injury that can sideline a player for a year or possibly on a permanent basis.
Not Hope Nester.
While Nester, who had set a single season state scoring record in soccer the previous season, couldn’t play the “beautiful game” in the fall, she wasn’t about to miss her true love.
Injury or not, Nester was back on the court.
“I love this game,” Nester said.
Some athletes might feel sorry for themselves or find someone to blame, but Nester simply fought to come back and play the game she loves so much.
“Even though this happened, I don’t know why it did, but God has a reason,” Nester said. “Hopefully we will just be able to come back and go hard the next game.”
Count on it.
Nester was there last Wednesday night when the Panthers were playing Summers County for the right to play in the Class AA state tournament this week in Charleston.
While PikeView is a young team with plenty of talented parts, Nester is the leader, and she played like it, providing 15 points, four assists and three steals, helping the Panthers to a surprisingly lopsided 57-38 co-regional win over perennial power Summers County.
Both sides played hard, yearning to get to Charleston, but it was Nester who simply refused to lose. The game was stopped once while Nester adjusted a slipping knee brace, but she kept the ball in her hands, drove to the basket, grabbed loose balls and found teammates for open looks.
“It gives me some trouble sometimes,” Nester said. “My knee brace is slipping, but hopefully we will be able to get that fixed and hopefully we can get to be 100 percent.”
That dream of 100 percent isn’t something Nester has seen for a while on the court, but she refuses not to play.
“It gave me a little bit of trouble tonight, but I am no where near where I need to be,” Nester said. “This was a big surgery and it is hard to just bounce back from it.”
Nester has been up to the task, even if the PikeView coaching staff and her family have been careful with her, trying to give her needed rest, which she got at times against Summers County, or even taking games off when needed.
No athlete wants to miss out on games, but Nester understands.
“I have missed a couple of games,” she said. “I started out this season being able to play, but there have been games where I have hurt it and I have had to sit out just being cautious with it because I wanted to play the whole season.”
This week is why Nester has been willing to put up the pain and frustration of injury to help her Panthers play in the state tournament for a third straight year.
“I wanted to be able to get to this point where we are going now,” Nester said. “Sometimes you have to sacrifice and miss some games, but I am glad to be able to go with my team this year and go upstate.”
PikeView has a mighty task ahead of it this week. The Panthers (14-10) have won six games in a row, but the overall record wasn’t deemed good enough for better than an eighth seed in the Class AA tournament that begins on Thursday in Charleston.
Yet, the Panthers do have the experience of being there, having lost in the opening round in 2011 and reaching the semifinals last season.
“We have been there two years,” Nester said. “I have been lucky enough to as a freshman to be able to start and go up there with these girls here. We have been there before, not all these girls have, but we are very young.”
Yet, PikeView, which has just one senior, hasn’t reached this point by padding its schedule with gimmes. The Panthers have played seven games against Class AAA squads — going 3-4 in those contests — and have faced such Class AA playoff foes as Westside and Nicholas County.
Lyndsey Hatfield, one of six sophomores for the Panthers, likes that type of competition, which can only prepare PikeView for what awaits this week. Hatfield was the “sixth man” on the team that reached the state semifinals last season so she has valuable experience.
“It will help us playing against bigger and better teams down there and just the experience of how to play with them and do better,” Hatfield said. “We are playing triple A teams and they are harder than double A teams and that just gets us prepared for each double A team.
“It paid off.”
Up next for PikeView is Westside, which is 23-1, defending state champions and has one of the best players in West Virginia is Hope Lester. (Imagine the quandary of a public address announcer with Hope Lester and Hope Nester).
While the Panthers will be prohibitive underdogs against the favored Renegades, don’t count out PikeView just yet. Greenbrier East was the favorite in Class AAA with an undefeated record and lost to Capital with its 10-13 record earlier this week.
It can happen, even if the Panthers are comprised of a team with loads of potential, but also lots of youth.
“It is going to be a different ball game, it is going to be hard for us to able to understand and keep our composure,” Nester said. “We haven’t played in a big game like this before, it is going to be a new experience, but we hard worked hard to get there.”
Sometimes, as PikeView girls basketball fans will tell you, all you need is Hope.
Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He can be contacted at bwoodson@bdtonline. com.