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Staying in the game

It would have been easy for Tristen Webb to walk away from the game of basketball.The sixth-year senior has had to endure more than any player should: tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee twice.

Webb spent a total of 38 months recovering and rehabbing in order to play her final season with the Bulls.

“There’s an emotional point where you’re not sure (if playing) is worth it,” Webb said. “The rehabilitation period is so long and it’s physically and emotionally draining.”

Webb’s first injury came in a February 2004 game against Texas Christian University. After spending the next 18 months rehabilitating, Webb was poised to become the team’s starting point guard last season.

But just over a minute into a preseason game, Webb suffered the same setback.”Tristen was really determined to get healthy to come back and play,” team trainer Donna Jordan said. “It didn’t take much to motivate her. She worked hard and has really impressed me with all of her hard work.”

Webb has applied that same work ethic off the court.

Last May, Webb graduated with a degree in exercise sciences and is now pursuing a second degree in psychology. But when the NCAA granted her another season of eligibility, she jumped at the chance to play her fourth year of basketball.

“We were ecstatic when we found out she had one more year to play,” said her mother, Millie Faulk Webb. “Her love of the game translates to how she plays. I love watching her play.”

This season, Webb has been determined to prove the injuries can’t slow her down. Since returning to training with the team, Webb has been keeping pace with Rachael Sheats, the quickest of the Bulls.

“She’s definitely fast and (Sheats) really motivates me to keep up with her,” Webb said. “I do like when I’m compared to her speed-wise. I really take that as a compliment.”

Her rigorous training and work ethic have earned Webb a role as the team’s top reserve. On the court, it’s not noticeable that she suffered a torn ACL twice.

“A lot of people tend to favor their healthy knee, but not Tristen,” Jordan said. “I think the team has been impressed with how well she’s bounced back. I see her diving for loose balls and playing like the injury never happened.”

Webb is averaging 4.1 points, 2.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game, serving as the primary backup to Shantia Grace.

Against Notre Dame, Webb was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time since Feb. 28, 2003 and helped lead USF to an 87-78 victory.

Coach Jose Fernandez has been impressed with her ability to recover both mentally and physically from the injury.

“What she’s gone through, and for her to play like she does, it’s truly remarkable,” Fernandez said. “It’s just a credit to her personality and her perseverance.”

At the beginning of this season, Webb’s teammates dubbed her “grandma” because she’s been with the program so long.

“Having her maturity and experience level is much needed,” Sheats said. “After seeing what she’s been through, people don’t get down as much as they did before. Seeing Tristen come back and have all this success is really an inspiration.”

The nickname doesn’t bother the 23-year-old.

“With all my injuries, sometimes I walk like an old woman,” Webb said. “I take it is a compliment. I’m an old soul.”

While providing inspiration to her teammates, Webb has also served as a source of strength for Chris Howard, another Bulls point guard who suffered from a twice-torn ACL.

“When (Howard) first injured his knee, he asked me a lot of questions. I was able to tell him how recovery went for me,” Webb said. “I really tried to keep him motivated and I’m glad to see him back out there playing.”

Howard was able to draw strength from Webb’s return.

“(Webb) let me know anything is possible,” Howard said. “She helped me get into the right mindset: If she could get back (onto the court), why couldn’t I?”

Since her injuries, the Bulls have reached two NIT Tournaments and their first-ever NCAA Tournament, but Webb was forced to sit out because of the injuries.

This season the Bulls are on pace again to qualify for the postseason, and Webb is looking forward to making a long-awaited debut.

“Unfortunately, last year I had to watch from the sideline,” Webb said. “I really hope we can get back there and get the chance to play in the tournament again.”

After the season is complete, Webb hopes to continue playing basketball overseas. Webb’s family is proud she has a degree in case she is unable to extend her playing career.

“She’s been able to go to school, do what she loves and graduate,” said her father, Tony Webb. “Tristen has done all that on her own and I couldn’t be more proud. She’s an extremely focused person.”

Fernandez feels Webb will make an impact no matter what career path she chooses.”Tristen is going to be successful at anything she does,” Fernandez said. “I think her future is going to be very bright.”