By GIUSEPPE UNGARO
Olivia Briggs is the kind of all-around athlete who never takes a break. She was either on the soccer pitch or on the basketball court year-round. That was her life for as long as she could remember, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
That all came to an abrupt halt last August, as Briggs tore the meniscus in her left knee during a recreational 3-on-3 basketball tournament.
It couldn’t have happened at worse time, as the start of the Ocean City High School soccer season was fast approaching. This wasn’t just any soccer season, either. It was her senior soccer season. There was even some initial thought that her basketball season could be in jeopardy.
Briggs, who was the team captain and among the best defenders in the Cape-Atlantic League, had to accept that she wouldn’t be able to return to the soccer field. To make matters worse, her injury became a roadblock to playing soccer in college.
However, the Seaville resident was motivated to come back and salvage her basketball career. The recent Red Raiders graduate said she was determined to get back on the hardwood as quickly as possible. She did, being cleared less than five months after suffering the injury.
Not only did Briggs come back, she led the Red Raiders to a South Jersey Group 3 championship. Briggs scored a team-best 12 points in their championship win over Toms River East.
“We didn’t know whether or not she was (coming back),” longtime Ocean City girls basketball coach Paul Baruffi explained. “That was a big plus for us that she was able to return because we weren’t quite sure that was going to happen. Initially we thought it was going to be in February and she ended up coming back in January.”
He added: “I was just happy for her because she missed the entire soccer season. I was happy she was able to get the basketball season in. We had success and she was able to be part of a team that won the South Jersey championship.”
The 5-foot-8 Briggs was cleared to play Jan. 3, which happens to be point guard Grace Sacco’s birthday. Briggs’ return was gift for Sacco and the rest of the Red Raiders. After a few games, Briggs was back starting at power forward, quickly establishing herself again as one of the elite players in the Cape-Atlantic League. She was selected as a CAL American Conference first-team all-star.
“It meant the world to me. The first couple practices that first week were the best days of my senior year,” Briggs said. “I was never so happy to play and be around my friends. The girls on the team are my best friends. To come back and play with them and win the South Jersey championship my senior year is a great way to end it.”
The storybook ending happened because Briggs mentally prepared herself to get through the rehabilitation process. When she wasn’t rehabbing, Briggs was at practice, listening to coaches and supporting her teammates.
“It was still my team. I went to practice and paid attention to plays,” Briggs said. “My goal was to come back. I wanted to come back and start again and lead the team again or at least try to for my senior year.”
With Briggs back in the low post, Ocean City thrived, eventually finishing 25-5, winning the CAL National Conference title and advancing to the league championship game for the second straight year.
“She came every day. She didn’t miss a minute unless she went rehab,” Baruffi said. “Sometimes her rehab was with our trainer. So she would do that and then come to practice. Or she had to leave early to go to her physical therapist. Other than that, she didn’t miss one minute of a practice we had. That shows you her character.”
Briggs’ story is far from over. The knee injury may have cost her a college soccer career, but Briggs will still be a college athlete. She plans to play basketball for Gettysburg College.
“When I wasn’t able to play soccer, I didn’t realize how much I missed out. How much I missed out on that experience, the memories, the games and the other girls,” Briggs said. “I knew I wanted to do that for the next four years.”
Briggs earned it.
Contact Giuseppe Ungaro: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDgisepu
By GIUSEPPE UNGARO