After ACL surgery, Shafir returning to form for University of Toledo women

10/2/2012
BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
UT senior and team captain Naama Shafir, left, slaps hands with graduate assistant/manager Jessica Slagle during practice Tuesday at UT's Savage Arena.
UT senior and team captain Naama Shafir, left, slaps hands with graduate assistant/manager Jessica Slagle during practice Tuesday at UT's Savage Arena.

Three point guards, each the subject of an intriguing subplot to this early basketball season, were in constant motion at University of Toledo's second practice.

Naama Shafir, healthy after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL, was running by defenders. Jess Slagle, a past rival of the Rockets during her solid career at Bowling Green State University, assisted coaches in running drills. Cat Wells, in the second week of her suspension for breaking team rules, was just running.

The impact to be made by each of them were topics of conversation Tuesday during the team's media day at Savage Arena.

Shafir is still recovering from ACL surgery.
Shafir is still recovering from ACL surgery.

Shafir, one of four seniors coach Tricia Cullop announced as captains prior to practice, looked athletic and explosive in the 30 minutes viewed by the media. Wearing a brace on her right knee, she stormed past a defender to begin the session with a basket. Shafir, more than 10 months removed from folding to the floor in a win at Indiana, said she feels fine physically but that her mind has yet to catch up with the rest of her body.

"I have to train my brain again, but I'm sure in a few more practices I'll be fine," she said.

Shafir, an All MAC selection in her first three seasons, added, "It takes time to come back from ACL surgery, but I'm sure I'll be 100 percent by November."

Joining her in captaining a season in which the Rockets will be among the favorites to win the Mid-American Conference championship are center Yolanda Richardson, of Start, forward Lecretia Smith, and guard Riley McCormick. Additionally, Cullop pegged guard/forward Ana Capotoso as the practice captain, tasking the redshirt freshman with ensuring the team arrives to the floor energized.

As her teammates participated in half court drills, Wells was ordered to jog the perimeter of the floor. Cullop did not rule out the possibility of Wells, of Notre Dame Academy, rejoining the team before an exhibition game Nov. 4 against Wayne State. Wells, the player of the year in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference, was unavailable for media interviews. She is missing from the official team photo.

"She's earning her way back to becoming a full functioning member of our team," Cullop said. "Cat has some opportunities ahead of her to prove to us what she wants to do. So far she's shown us that she's working toward that goal."

If fully engaged, the 5-foot-5 Wells could be summoned off the bench to relieve Shafir as she rounds back into shape. If not, that responsibility will rest with junior Janelle Reed-Lewis and perhaps freshman Michele Hayes. Andola Dortch, who filled in at point guard last year, figures to play the bulk of her minutes off the ball.

"I don't think there's a happier person on our team to see Naama back than Andola," Cullop quipped.

Tasked with timing Wells as she ran sprints was Slagle. With an official title of graduate assistant manager — not the same as a graduate assistant coach — the second-team All-MAC selection from last season is also charged with passing the ball to players during drills. 

Asked if wearing Toledo garb felt weird, Slagle responded, "Oh my gosh yes. It was more difficult in the beginning to get adjusted to things and for the team to accept me. Now it's better, but it's a day-to-day thing."

Slagle, who is enrolled in UT's graduate business school, approached Cullop this summer about joining the staff. Cullop's response: "Who wouldn't say yes to that?"

Cullop added, "Even though she didn't play for our program, I admired her leadership qualities and her work ethic. After talking with [former BG coach Curt Miller] he verified everything I thought from afar."

CROSS COUNTRY: The UT women's cross country team received its highest national ranking in program history at No. 15. The Rockets moved up seven spots in this week's NCAA Division I poll, surpassing the previous record set earlier this season when they spent two weeks at No. 18.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.