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Owens Community College guard Joan Anderson takes enormous pride in her defensive abilities, but the young basketball player was completely defenseless when her car slammed into a concrete barrier on I-75 last October.
Anderson, a sophomore at Owens, was driving home from practice the day before Halloween when she lost control of her car while southbound on I-75 near Maumee. Anderson's vehicle was demolished and she was knocked unconscious in the single-car accident. The Jaws of Life were required to pry her out and she was life-flighted to a local hospital.
Miraculously, Anderson did not break any bones or suffer serious injuries. But the defensive player of the year for the Express spent the next two weeks in the hospital.
Her budding basketball career was over, but Anderson said she was happy to walk away from the horrific wreck.
"I'm just so thankful I'm okay," Anderson said. "They told me the concussion would keep me out for five months. Oh man, was that a bummer. The concussion alone was enough to keep me off the court. But I have my legs, arms. I'm just fine."
The Maumee native had emerged as the defensive specialist for the Express as a freshman last season. Anderson averaged 2.4 points and 1.3 rebounds in 30 games.
The Express went 21-11 and captured their first Ohio Community College Athletic Conference title since 1999.
The 5-foot-8 guard earned OCCAC all-academic honors and was named the team's Most Improved Player.
While preparing for this season, Owens coach Michael Llanas had named Anderson the team's captain.
"We needed a defensive stopper and she got rave reviews in the City League," Llanas said. "She was one of the toughest in the league. She's athletic, quick, and relentless."
The St. Ursula Academy graduate earned honorable mention all-City League as a senior and was the Arrows' Defensive Player of the Year.
Anderson can still chillingly recount the October accident that ended her college career.
"I was on I-75 coming from Perrysburg into Maumee. That was the scene of the crime," she said. "It was pretty crazy. I remember crashing into the cement wall. I don't know how it happened. I wasn't on the phone. No other car scared me. It was so quick. It happened so fast. They cut me out of the car. It was pretty serious. I was so lucky to not break any bones."
Anderson was flown to the University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio, and was hospitalized for two weeks.
Llanas said he was watching the 11 o'clock news that night and saw the report about the accident.
"I thought it looked like Joan's car. I gave Joan a call and told her to give me a call because I thought I saw her car," Llanas said. "Then at 3 in the morning I got a call from her sister saying it was her car and that Joan was in ICU at MUO."
Anderson said the entire team came to visit her twice, but she remembers only one of the visits.
"No one had any words," Anderson said. "But it was so nice for them to be there."
Anderson said she had two black eyes and felt enormous pain.
"I had to do everything again. I could not walk by myself. I was so banged up. I was sore and bruised," Anderson said.
Yet Anderson said she never thought that her basketball career might be over.
"I had come back from injuries before," she said.
But damage to her knee and a serious concussion put an end to her season before it started.
With Anderson now serving as a cheerleader and "player-coach," the Express is 19-8 overall and is in third place in the conference with an 8-3 record. Owens is ranked No. 25 in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II poll.
"She's been a real inspiration for the team," Llanas said. "Kids take a lot of things for granted. I'm just glad she's with us. Coming into this year, her work ethic was second to none. She was a lock to be captain."
Anderson said she comes from "a big basketball family" with three brothers and four sisters who helped her hone her defensive skills.
"I've always had to defend myself," Anderson said. "I just let it out on other opponents. I just had the want for it."
Llanas offered Anderson a medical red shirt so that she could play next season.
But Anderson is on schedule to graduate from Owens with an associate's degree in business this summer. She plans on attending Ohio State in the fall.
"I had to understand that basketball was not the first thing in my life," she said. "I had to be ready to end this chapter in my life."
Anderson said she will play in pick up games and is weighing the possibility of playing on a club team at OSU.
"It probably is done for me," Anderson said. "I'll cross my fingers."
Meanwhile, Anderson joked that her cheerleading skills have improved.
"I should get an award for being the best cheerleader," she said. "My role changed for sure. I was correcting girls. I got the water. I was a player-coach."
Anderson said in close games she imagines what she could be doing to help the team.
"It kills me sometimes. I would think I would do this and that. I'm not sure if I could have, but I thought I could," she said.
With 4.4 seconds in the team's last home game, Llanas called a time-out with his team in control of the game and put Anderson in the contest.
"The staff had talked about it and she was going in," Llanas said. "I think the crowd wondered why I called the time-out. But when she walked towards the scorers' table, she got a standing ovation."
Anderson said it was unexpected.
"I was just talking to the girls in the huddle. Then I heard the coach say, 'Anderson, go in.' Everyone laughed," Anderson said.
"It was a blast. It was so nice. But I was so nervous. I didn't want to do something wrong. I grabbed the ball and I started to get teary-eyed. It was emotional for all of us."
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