— By Stephanie Panny, Times West Virginian
FAIRMONT, W.Va. — The journey back to the basketball court after missing an entire year of basketball seemed impossible.
But Fairmont Senior’s Anysa Jordan didn’t let that stop her.
Jordan was honored by the West Virginia Sports Writers’ Association with the 2019 Doug Huff Award, which is given to a senior in a team sport whose qualities as a player are not measured solely by numbers on a scoreboard. She will be honored at the Victory Awards Dinner on May 5 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.
“Losing that year was pretty tough,” Jordan said. “Coming back, I knew I couldn’t focus on that year. Everyone was like, ‘Oh, you missed last year. Are you going to be OK this year?’ And I’m like, ‘I can’t think about that. I have to think about getting better and helping my team.’”
When Jordan got home from her ACL surgery in January 2018, a spark of determination struck her. The injury would not beat her.
Her season-long stay on the bench recovering allowed her to observe the game from a fresh perspective. She then realized how she could get her Polar Bears back to Charleston.
“When you sit on the sidelines, you see a whole different aspect of the game,” Jordan said. “That really helped me as a player. So, when I came back this year, I was just telling them things that I noticed from a watching perspective.”
Both on and off the court, Jordan tried to light a fire in her teammates. On the court, she built her teammates up, knowing that giving younger players confidence was like planting seeds in a garden.
A season of confidence-building came together when the Polar Bears defeated Wyoming East in the Class AA state championship. A unified team of girls from grades nine through 12 proved confidence pays off.
Off the court, Jordan encouraged communication between all team members because she saw the lack of communication tear her team apart the previous season.
She realized that what her coach, Corey Hines, was telling the team were things they needed to internalize and improve, including communication and relationships.
“When you’re playing, you’re like, ‘This is what I’m doing, and this is what everyone else is doing,’” Jordan said. “But then a coach is seeing what you’re actually doing and what everyone else is actually doing. It’s just two different perspectives.”
When she was medically cleared to play again, Jordan began enouraging her teammates to listen to the coach.
“Corey always tells us that we need to buy in. He knows basketball, from coaching and playing. We just need to trust him. When players have trust in their coach as well as their teammates, there’s nothing that can stop them from winning,” Jordan said.
Over the course of the season, the wildfire that was Jordan burned through major milestones. As a senior, she scored 490 points and averaged 18.5 points a game.
“We were happy she was there, she was a force in the games,” Hines said. “What she gave us, man, it was great. It was excellent. By the time the playoffs came around, she was stronger. That was the most impressive thing to me.”
The injury changed Jordan not only physically, but also mentally.
Jordan played without fear, with almost reckless abandon, like she never thought about her knee. In the back of his mind, Hines was worried, because he knew Jordan had every reason to loosen up.
But Jordan told the staff she wanted to play and win a title.
“Coach is always saying you got to practice every practice like it’s your last, you got to play every game like it’s your last,” Jordan said. “And you’re thinking, ‘Yeah right, I got tomorrow.’ But when you get hurt like that, you’re like, ‘I don’t have tomorrow.’”
Jordan said the injury changed her entire perspective of the game. She longed to get back on the court.
“Now you’re thinking, ‘This could be my last practice, this could be my last game.’ So, you got to give it your all so that, if it is, you put everything out there,” Jordan said.
Fellow seniors Courtney Wilfong, with whom Jordan has been playing since they were 8 years old, and Abby Faulkner said watching Jordan go down last year was incredibly hard.
However, watching her strong comeback was incredibly motivational. They said Jordan’s journey back to the court — and back to Charleston — encouraged them to work as hard as she was working.
“It was inspiring,” Wilfong said. “It was contagious. I just wanted everybody to feel that way and everyone to be inspired by that because that took a lot out of her. I’m proud of her for that. I definitely think it affected us getting to the state title game.”
Wilfong said Jordan’s work ethic pushed others, especially the younger players.
“I came in, I worked, and I’m not trying to lose,” said Hines, referring to Jordan’s mentality. “Every sport, that is the mentality. We wanted to instill that in our kids.
“When you see kids that have those same beliefs as you, they want to be competitive. They don’t want to lose not just on the court, but also in the classroom because she’s an excellent student, too, that tells me she has a winner’s mentality.”
Although athletes always have individual goals they want to achieve, Hines said Jordan remained completely selfless, and thought about the program and its goals ahead of her own. She continued to work in practice, continued to train, and continued to get stronger for the team.
“She took a big chance, a real big chance now that I’m siting down and thinking about it,” Hines said. “In my opinion, she cemented her legacy as one of the best women’s basketball players to come through this school because she did her job. She sacrificed. She put a lot on the line for our program, and we’re forever grateful for that.”
Jordan said she saw the potential in her teammates. When the team lost, Jordan reminded everyone how they played when they won, she said, “because when we won, we won by a lot.”
“She’s very easy to talk to, she’s not one to harp down on somebody,” Wilfong said. “If you need help or you don’t understand something, she’ll be there to help guide. She’s a very selfless player. She’s always there to help. She was never just thinking about herself.”
As one of four graduating starters, it could be easy to doubt the Polar Bears’ prowess next year. However, Jordan is confident the team she leaves behind can “get it done again.”
“I know everyone says this, but I really wasn’t thinking about myself this season,” Jordan said. “It wasn’t about me. I was already signed to college, so I was ready for the season. I said, ‘OK, now, I just got to go out with a bang.”