The Yale women’s basketball team returns from break with an unexpected and severe blow to the program: Captain and leading scorer Sarah Halejian ’15 will be out for the remainder of the season due to a torn ACL.
The injury happened on a drive with about two minutes left in the Bulldogs’ game against Oklahoma on Dec. 30. When landing, Halejian planted her foot in a position where the ligament could not hold. Teammates and head coach Chris Gobrecht held out hope that the injury might be minor enough that Halejian could recover and make it back to the court this year. However, the official MRI showed a torn ACL, which means the captain will be out for the 15 remaining games of the season, effectively ending her college career.
“There’s no question that it’s a real blow to the team since she’s the captain, the leading scorer,” Gobrecht said. “It’s a lot for our team to absorb.”
Halejian has been a major cog in Yale’s attack over the past four seasons. She currently averages 14.9 points per game, seventh in the Ivy League. She also ranks second in the conference with 4.3 assists per game and was selected to the All-Ivy first team in each of the last two seasons.
The captain also ranks highly on Yale career leaderboards. Her career average of 12.8 points per game is tied for seventh-best in school history, and she is one of just 19 Bulldogs to score 1,000 career points.
Until this season, her durability had been a major positive for Yale. She had started 85 consecutive games for the program, dating back to her freshman season.
“I am obviously extremely bummed about the injury and the fact that my Yale career has come to an unexpected close,” Halejian said.
Despite losing such a crucial player at this point in the season, Gobrecht is confident that the team will still be able to keep up its performance. While the Bulldogs are just 5–8 this season, that record includes games against major-conference foes Washington, Arizona State and Oklahoma. In addition, the Elis have compiled an impressive 4–1 record at home.
In their first game without Halejian, the Elis were able to pull off a second-half comeback to defeat Maine 57–55. Guard Nyasha Sarju ’16 scored 18 points off the bench, while guard Tamara Simpson ’18 scored the game-winning layup with 10 seconds on the clock. Guard Lena Munzer ’17 made her first start of the season in the contest.
Halejian plays point guard, but the Bulldog team does not run a classic offensive system where the point guard is responsible for calling the plays. The way the Bulldogs play, the guards are interchangeable — making it easier to replace any single player.
Gobrecht also explained that lineups are selected based on what team the Elis are heading up against. As a result, the team has had several different lineups throughout the year and is used to changing up players from game to game.
“How well we play each night out and how hard we play doesn’t change just because you’ve lost a good player,” Gobrecht said. “You’re still accountable for the same effort and commitment.”
Halejian’s injury has only increased the team’s motivation to win. Simpson explained that the team has been working hard and playing for Halejian, knowing that she would give anything to be on the court herself.
Gobrecht agrees, explaining that the team is more motivated than ever given that all team members want to play very hard and perform well in honor of Halejian. She added that it has been hard for the entire team on a very personal level, as they are very aware of Halejian’s love for the sport.
The Bulldog captain has received immense support from teammates, coaches and the athletic administration over the last few weeks. She has also been rehabilitating her knee and strengthening the surrounding muscles in order to prepare for her surgery, which will be done some time in the next few weeks.
Halejian, however, remains very positive about her recovery.
“As devastated as I am, injuries happen to athletes all the time,” Halejian said. “I plan to bounce back and still fulfill my goal of playing professional basketball in the future.”