The constant pain in her arthritic right knee reminds Creighton's Carli Tritz that she will never again be the player she once was on the basketball court.
And the senior from Sioux City, Iowa, is perfectly fine with that.
“I've had my time. I've had my 15 minutes (of fame),” Tritz said. “I'm fine with being on this team right now. I don't care if I play two minutes a game or 20.
“The expectations for our program are really high right now, and being on a team that plays in three straight NCAA tournaments or wins the first Big East championship outweighs me being preseason player of the year or being all-conference or even scoring points. I don't care about any of that other stuff.”
There was a time, before the cartilage in her knee disintegrated and left her trying to slash and cut with bone rubbing on bone, that Tritz had stamped herself as a player with the potential to be one of the program's all-time greats.
She was the Missouri Valley's freshman of the year in 2010-11, leading the Bluejays in steals, assists and shooting while finishing second in scoring. As a sophomore, Tritz led Creighton in scoring, assists and steals, earned first-team all-conference honors and led the Bluejays to their first NCAA tournament berth in a decade.
She started last season tabbed as the Valley's preseason player of the year. She ended it as a backup player, struggling to make plays that once came so effortlessly.
“We went into the season thinking that we had someone that was going to be an all-conference player,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. “It certainly wasn't her fault that she didn't play at that level.”
After averaging almost 15 points a game as a sophomore, Tritz finished last season with a 6.8 average. Once CU's go-to player, Tritz watched as Sarah Nelson and freshman Marissa Janning took over that role on a team that played into the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“It was frustrating, but I was so appreciative of my teammates,” Tritz said. “They helped me get through it. We were a good team, and we did things last year that Flan has never done here.
“It was great. God has a weird way of putting bad and good things in life at the same time. It's not easy not being able to do things when you're 19 that you could do when you were 18. Or even six months ago.”
During the offseason, Tritz underwent a procedure in which hyaluronic acid — a substance that acts as a shock absorber or cushion — is injected into the knee. The shots are often referred to as “chicken shots” because the injected fluid is extracted from the combs on the back of chicken heads.
“I wanted to try everything I possibly could,” Tritz said. “My swelling was down all summer and there was less pain with the everyday things, like waking up and walking around.
|BLUEJAYS TODAY ON FACEBOOK|
|Join the conversation on the Bluejays Today Facebook page.|
“But once we started up again in August, the pain picked back up and I knew the chicken shots hadn't worked. But it was worth the try.”
Tritz and her teammates resumed organized workouts when school began last month, with formal practices set to begin at the end of next week. In order to get through the physical grind, Tritz recently received the first of three cortisone shots she expects to get this season.
As they prepare for the coming season, Tritz and Flanery both say they believe they are better prepared to handle the situation.
“You feel awful for her because, based on what she's told us, there's a chance she'll be more limited this season than she was last year,” Flanery said. “But at least we have an idea of what she can and can't do.”
When Tritz first started missing practice time last season, she believed that the setback was temporary. It eventually became apparent, as the condition of her knee worsened, that this wasn't a case of merely playing through the pain.
“I'm better prepared mentally for this now,” Tritz said. “I was at a point last year that I hurt so bad that I was close to my breaking point. And because I couldn't play like I wanted to, I felt like I was letting people down.
“Now, I know I'm going to have some crappy days, and even my good days are going to be kind of crappy. I'm prepared for that, and I'm going to do everything I can to get through this year.”
Tritz knows she eventually will need to have knee replacement surgery.
“Hopefully, I can wait until I'm at least 35,” she said. “I know what the technology is now, but who knows what it's going to be in 10 years. The longer I can wait, the better.”
Naturally, Tritz has moments when she wonders if the pain and frustration are really worth it.
“There are days when I say, 'Why am I doing this; it's just basketball, it's just a game,' ” Tritz said. “But I know there are so many people that have it worse than me. I just feel like this is my cross, and I can bear it.”