We Play as a Team
Dealing with adversity is nothing new for Green Knight basketball: especially this season, displaced as it is from its home court; and most especially for two frontcourt players on this year’s roster, forward Jackie Ostojic ’20 and center Mallory Nickerson ’17.
The ongoing redevelopment of the Schuldes site is presenting its own challenges: 6 a.m. off-campus practices all season, and home games played at UW-Green Bay. Add to that the plight of Nickerson, who played in all 26 games a season ago, averaging 7.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per contest. The senior continues to deal with severe pain in her left foot. The distress surfaced in 2014, leading to an MRI that revealed a benign tumor. Surgery followed. “For a time after the surgery, it was okay,” explains Nickerson (who also competes in track and field). “But the pain then started coming back.”
Her current pain could be from nerve damage. She hopes a series of injections will provide relief. “She is so important to our program,” says Coach Connie Tilley. “Even when she was out the long period of time, she was there every day helping out her teammates.” When Nickerson returned to the court late in her sophomore season, she immediately displayed her talents. In a first-round NCAA Tournament game, she scored 11 points in only nine minutes of action. “She was scoring every time down the court,” says Tilley. “I thought, ‘I’m not taking her out until she falls down.’ She was on fire. I don’t think that anyone knows what she’s gone through. It’s remarkable.”
In her final season, Nickerson, one of four seniors on the squad, wants to continue a pair of streaks. “We have won conference and played in the NCAA Tournament the last three years,” she says. “This is our last year, so we need to keep it going. That’s our goal.” She can count unreservedly on enthusiasm and support in pursuit of that goal from Ostojic and the other new first-year students on the team.
Ostojic faces her own challenges. She was born deaf in her right ear – a loss “significant enough that it plays a role in my everyday life,” she explains. “We didn’t figure it out until I was in kindergarten.” For several years, Ostojic made it a point to sit in the front of class, two seats to the right of the teacher. Later, teachers used assisted-listening devices so she could hear in the classroom. “I wore a hearing device on my left ear, my good ear,” explains Ostojic. “I was so excited. That was amazing. My sophomore year, I got my hearing aids.”
Ostojic, who is skilled at reading lips, dislikes playing basketball with hearing aids, so she needs additional strategies. “Something clicked,” she explains. “I put the hope and trust in my teammates. We figured out [nonverbal] codes and gestures to communicate. When we are in the huddle, I stand right in front of the coach. That’s where I need to be. Nobody makes a big deal about it.”
Tilley says, “This is a perfect group to be part of her support. I think the one thing that impresses me about her is she has a lot of confidence in herself; where’s she’s going and what she’s doing. She’s not going to let this set her back.”
Nov. 14, 2016