PHILADELPHIA >> It was about as routine a play as a point guard could make.
Germantown Academy senior Cat Polisano turned the corner on a defender in the second half of Sunday’s game against Bonner & Prendergast, and kept her dribble alive to sucker the entire defense into taking a step toward her. Once the Pandas were out of position, Polisano kicked out to Rachel Balzer behind the arc for a knock-down trey.
It was a routine play, but one Polisano wasn’t quite able to make just a few weeks ago.
After tearing the ACL in her right knee early in preseason prior to the 2016-17 season, Polisano lost nearly a full year of basketball and is still finding her way back to form so far this season. With every passing game, the senior guard is getting a little more confident, comfortable and looking like her old self.
“That’s a really good team and we played well as a team, sharing the ball and scoring but for myself, I felt a lot more confident,” Polisano said in the hallways at Jefferson University. “My speed, little by little, I’m getting that back. When I first started coming back, I just focused on my movement, defense, lateral movements but now that I’m past that, I get to go back to my shooting.”
That simple play in the fourth quarter of GA’s 63-38 win Sunday was just the thing Patriots assistant coach Maggie Lucas needed to see from Polisano. Lucas, the former GA great, is no stranger to ACL injuries, currently rehabbing her second tear while helping out with her old team.
“She needed a little time to settle back in, coming off that injury it just takes time,” Lucas said. “Physically, she’s strong, she just had to settle back in and get her legs under her. Now that she has and she’s back in game shape, it’s showing. She looks like herself again. I’m proud of her because that’s not easy, those first couple games you’re thinking ‘am I going to get it back?’ and she just hung in there and kept grinding.”
Polisano had an all-around stellar game against the Pandas. The 5-foot-9 senior scored 12 points, pulled down five rebounds, poked away two steals and dished seven assists and just as importantly, didn’t leave the floor until the latter half of the fourth quarter with the outcome all but locked up.
After Sunday’s game, Polisano said Lucas gave her a shout-out in the team’s locker room, noting all the work the guard had put in to get back on the court
“She has a much bigger perspective of everything that’s going on around her on the court,” Lucas said. “The one play, she held on to the ball for just the right amount of time before a kick-out to Rachel Balzer for a three. She’s out there and making other people better.”
“I talked to Maggie so many times about it,” Polisano said. “She’s been such a good mentor and I love having her as part of the team.”
The tail end of the fall in 2016 went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows for Polisano. A couple months after being offered and accepting a scholarship to play basketball at Fordham, the guard suffered her injury in a preseason drill.
Lucas told Polisano to keep her focus right in front of her and if she only worried about one day at a time, everything would come together.
“One of the things you can’t do is look too far ahead and you just have to win each day,” Lucas said. “She’s won the day every day and that’s why she’s in the position she is right now.”
Polisano not only lost her junior season at GA, but the AAU season over the summer, which added up to a lot of games she only got to watch from the sidelines. The senior said she didn’t get back on a court until one of the Patriots’ open gyms earlier this school year and since then has been working to regain her old form.
She’s had to do it with a large brace that covers most of her leg. It’s pretty noticeable and quite rigid, with metal and plastic supports so it naturally draws a lot of attention.
“I get that question all the time, anybody who sees me play will ask ‘what’s up with that brace, it looks so uncomfortable,’” Polisano said. “I actually don’t really think about it. It is an adjustment because it’s this big metal and plastic thing on your leg, but I try to block it out and say I’m going to get past it.”
Some players coming off knee injuries try smaller braces, or ditch them entirely as soon as possible. For now, Polisano said hers actually adds a layer of security. Because of how rigid it is, her leg has a lot of support and it lets her do the things she wants to do on the floor, even if it took some time to learn how to move around wearing it.
On top of her rehab work, Polisano has also worked to strengthen her legs to try and ward off any future injuries. She admitted she might have been a little overzealous in preseason, picking up a minor quad issue that limited her in the first few games but otherwise has felt really good all season.
Even last year, coming off a promising sophomore season only to get sidelined, Polisano was constantly around the team. She was named one of the Patriots’ captains and with a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing last season, wanted to be there as a mentor the way Lucas was for her the year prior.
“It was definitely hard, I was a junior and captain and I wasn’t able to be out there,” Polisano said. “I tried to be that mentor for the younger guards. Before every season, we all make a set of goals and one of mine was to be a captain so I knew at least one of my goals was going to be achieved and I wanted to put my energy back into that.”
One thing Polisano didn’t lose during her year off was her self-confidence. The senior said she’s a naturally confident person and never allowed herself to think she was doing anything other than returning for her senior season.
Polisano joked you can’t teach confidence and said her natural confidence comes from the belief the people around her have in her. Whether it’s her parents, her teammates and coaches at GA or even her future coaches at Fordham, who Polisano said were very supportive and encouraging, she doesn’t have any reason to doubt herself.
“She’s a warrior,” Lucas said. “That’s the personality of GA girls’ basketball for a long time and she has that.”
GA is playing exceptionally well this season, with sights on another Inter-Ac title but there’s one thing Polisano wants more than anything else this year. Both Polisano and forward Alexa Naessens, the team’s only other senior, have never won a PAISAA state title and they’re determined to change that.
“It takes something out of you, and yeah, I’m tired playing more minutes but I feel myself getting stronger and closer to the old Cat,” Polisano said. “I’m still the same person, but I also want to improve. If you’re not improving, you’re going backwards. Every game, every practice, I push myself a little bit more. I think I’m close, I’m almost there.”
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