Many times an athlete’s mettle is tested even before they are seemingly ready.
For Morris Catholic sophomore Melanie Zakrzewski, the test not only happened once but twice in her young basketball career.
In the eight grade, Zakrzewski injured her ACL, which forced her to sidelines for a year. The 5-foot-9 shooting guard worked tirelessly to return to action for her freshman season at the Denville, NJ, school.
But there was one caveat that did not sit so well with Zakrzewski: she could only play ten minutes of each game.
And then lady misfortune dealt another blow, as Zakrzewski suffered a bone bruise, banging knees with an opposing player in a mid-air collision, her mother, Danielle Zakrzewski, said.
The injury abruptly ended Zakrzewski’s four-game campaign and left her disenchanted. But Danielle said it never kept her daughter down for the count.
From the ACL injury to her left knee and the bone bruise on her right one, Zakrzewski continued to rehab unwaveringly to hit the court again.
“She had a tough time, but I have to praise her because she had to pretty much learn how to walk again,” Danielle said. “She shed tears maybe once or twice, more out of frustration. But I was in awe watching her recover.”
And Zakrzewski recuperated, going full tilt once her doctor gave her the green light to do so. Furthermore, she took full advantage of her positive health status, playing well on the spring and summer circuit with the AAU New Jersey Panthers.
“I could see it in her face, in her attitude,” Danielle said of Melanie’s return to hoops. “Her missing piece was back. She’s definitely back to her old self; her (positive) demeanor is back. After playing summer ball, being out there really helped. She was able to apply everything she trained for, for over the last year. She definitely needed the summer (of hoops).”
Zakrzewski, with all physical restrictions removed, said it raised her basketball self-assurance while making her more of a team leader.
“Being able to play this summer without limitations not only boosted my confidence but made me a stronger player and taught me to become more of a leader on and off the court,” the soon-to-be 16-year-old explained.”
Moreover, Zakrzewski’s standout summer performance earned a letter of interest from Division I American University in Washington, D.C., who plays in the Patriot League.
“Receiving the letter solidified my hard work and showed me it’s paying off,” the straight-A student said.
Realizing what Zakrzewski has endured, Danielle beamed with pride over her daughter’s first D I offical letter of interest, in what should be several more to come.
“I am beyond proud considering what she has been through and how she got through it,” her mother exclaimed. “She is very tenacious. She wants to be the best version of herself. She’ll push aside fatigue and do what she has to do.”
Morris Catholic girl’s basketball head coach Billy Lovette is chomping at the bit to see Zakrzewski returm to the fold with his team, who is loaded with top-to-bottom talent.
“I’m excited she’s back and healthy,” Lovette said. “She’s been working extremely hard. She had good seasons with the Panthers in the spring and summer. She’ll contribute to the depth we’ll have.”
As for Zakrzewski, a true team player, she said, I’m “looking forward to a great season at Morris Catholic and being able to be a contributing factor to our success.”
Now healthy and locked and loaded, Zakrzewski, currtely playing fall ball with the Panthers, she is all set for a triumphant return to high school hoops in December.
— Jerry Del Priore