Four minutes into the first game of the 2017 season, Caitlyn O’Neal, a senior, attacked the basket and was hit by a defender, tearing her anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL.

As painful as the injury was for Caitlyn, it was also hard for her teammate and twin sister, Carley O’Neal. After all, the girls had been playing basketball together their entire lives.

“When Caitlyn tore her ACL, the first thing that came into my mind was sadness and disappointment,” said Carley. “I didn’t want to believe that our last season of basketball together was taken away from us.”

Last year, with Caitlyn O’Neal’s ACL tear, other player’s injuries and seven first-years playing, GC struggled to win games. Carley led the Maple Leafs to the best of her ability, but she missed her sister on the court.

While Carley graduated in April of last year, Caitlyn is back at GC for her fourth season.

The two sisters are now swapping roles. This year, Carley is attending grad school at Indiana State University, studying to become a physical therapist. Caitlyn believes that watching her sister play without her all year has helped mentally prepare her for playing without her sister.

This season, nobody is happier to see Caitlyn back on the court than her sister.

“My sister is the most determined and hardworking person I have ever known, and I knew she would conquer this setback,” Carley said. “I’m so excited and proud to see her play this season and finish playing the game we both fell in love with on her own terms.”

To recover, Caitlyn did physical therapy three to four times per day, every day, for eight months. What motivated Caitlyn was the hope of coming back full-force this season. For the last three months, she has continued to do therapy at least once or twice a day.

And even with her injury, Caitlyn continued to work on skills like form shooting and stationary ball handling. Once she was medically cleared, she dedicated a lot of her time to agility work and making her legs stronger. After putting in hours of hard work, she hopes it will pay off on the court.

While she is excited for the season to start and wants to be a contributing factor, Caitlyn remains realistic. “I’ve been working really hard,” she said, “but I also know that it’s going to be an adjustment coming back into the intensity of a college basketball game.”

Caitlyn’s main goal is to be able to contribute to GC’s conference games starting in November. However, If the season doesn’t go as planned and her injury doesn’t allow her to see the floor again, she knows that she’ll still be helping her team win through her leadership and encouragement.

“I knew that if I decided to come back, there would be a chance I wouldn’t play a lot,” Caitlyn said. “I also knew that if that was the case, I’d be able to take away something from the experience, as well as lead the team and be a positive impact. I hope that I have been an inspiration to them to show that they can overcome any adversity.”

On the floor or not, her teammates are excited to have Caitlyn back.

“It was tough seeing her go through her injury last year, but it’ll make this year even more significant,” said Clair Rauck, a sophomore guard. “Caitlyn brings us leadership both on and off the court. Her caring and compassionate personality will also be reassuring to have off the court as she is a friend to all.”

Kim and Darrin O’Neal, the sisters’ parents, sympathized with their daughters, knowing how hard last year was for them. They too will be cheering from the stands this season.

“I am extremely proud of my daughter,” Darrin said. “She is such a hard worker and willing to dedicate as much time and effort into something in order to get the results she is seeking.”

Kim said, “I’m so excited and thankful that Caitlyn has been given another opportunity to play another year at Goshen.”

The GC team is confident that they’ll improve over last season. With Caitlyn as a captain, leading the team alongside fellow seniors Sydney Stein and Haley Archibeque, there is a lot of passion in GC’s locker room.

Caitlyn, despite her setbacks, is confident in her team.

“We’re gonna surprise people.”