Massengale headed in right direction

After Ariel Massengale collided with Cierra Burdick in practice, both players ended up on the sideline – Massengale because her head was hurt and Burdick because she was distraught.

When the freshman point guard checked into the exhibition game this week against Carson-Newman the second-happiest person on the court was the freshman forward who had been eagerly awaiting her return.

The mishap occurred when Ariel Massengale cut a tight path to receive a handoff from Cierra Burdick. Massengale's head struck Burdick's shoulder, and the freshman guard dropped to the court with what Jenny Moshak later described as a whiplash-type injury.

That was Oct. 10, and Massengale wasn't cleared for contact at practice until Oct. 31, causing her to miss the majority of preseason, a point of concern for Burdick.

"She apologized every single day that I could not practice," Massengale said. "She was like, ‘When are you going to get back on the court?' I said, ‘Well, if you wouldn't have hit me in my head, we wouldn't be having this conversation about it.'

"So, we laugh and joke about it with each other now."

It wasn't funny the day it happened.

"I remember running into her and hitting her, but I don't really remember what happened after that," Massengale said.

Massengale was removed from the court and taken to the sideline. Burdick was so upset that Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick told her to take a break from practice and talk to her teammate, who was being evaluated by Moshak, the program's chief of sports medicine.

"It was really bad," Massengale said. "Holly ended up having to tell her, ‘C, just go over there. See about her, talk to her, make sure she is OK and when you get your stuff together, you can come back and join the team.'

"She watched JMo do some tests on me, and I said, ‘C, I am good.' When she finally got her composure back she went back out there."

Massengale wasn't even able to stay on the sideline that afternoon. She was taken to the locker room and then put on restrictions in terms of exposure to light, noise and motion. For a freshman, that meant a lot of dorm rest, and Massengale felt isolated.

Her parents, who live in Bolingbrook, Ill., had been scheduled to visit on the weekend after the concussion but ended up postponing the trip. That compounded Massengale's isolation because she was already separated from the team.

"That was really hard," Massengale said. "Two of the weekends we had recruits. I was supposed to host one time and couldn't."

So, she watched her roommates Burdick and Isabelle Harrison get ready to go out to dinner and attend a football game. The team also had an outing planned to navigate a Halloween-themed corn maze.

"I couldn't do any of it," Massengale said. "I am sitting in the dorm. I was just lonely. I am a lot better now. I feel better because now I can get myself back to where I need to be where I feel like I am capable of helping this team.

"It is finally back to normal. I am able to play and be on the court with my teammates."

Her parents did make it for the exhibition game this week and were able to accompany their daughter to the doctor's office and hear firsthand how she was doing post-concussion. It was a relief to her mother, Anita Massengale.

"They got here early enough to be able to do that (Tuesday), and I think that made her feel better to be able to hear the words from (the doctor)," Massengale said. "She wanted to Skype me all the time (a way to chat live online), and I said, ‘Mom, I don't have time to be Skyping you. I do have a head injury. I don't need to be on the computer.'

"She was very supportive, always calling, checking up and wanting to know what was going on. But for her to actually get here and see me it gave her a sense of relief."

Massengale didn't know how strict Tennessee's concussion protocol was until she entered it. It was initially frustrating but then she understood why after a conversation with Moshak.

"I took me awhile, and JMo always told me to be patient," Massengale said. "This is something that is really serious. It's not like it's the ankle, and we can just tape it up and you can go play. This has long-term effects. We love to play the game of basketball, but we can't play forever."

Massengale wasn't even allowed back on the sideline at practice until a week after the concussion and then she could only observe the proceedings. She was slowly allowed onto the court for a few drills such as passing, dribbling and shooting, over the next two weeks. She had to pass several cognitive and written tests, in addition to checkups with the team physician.

The tests measure memory and recall, and all of the players take them at the beginning of the season to get a baseline reading for comparison purposes. Several players have mentioned that the tests, which are done via computer and on paper, are not that easy.

"The tests are very difficult," Massengale said. "It is tests that you are not used to taking on a daily basis."

She didn't participate in any of the scrimmages – and rarely even did a full court drill – so her first chance to really play with her teammates was in the Carson-Newman game, a 105-40 win for Tennessee.

Massengale played 15 minutes and scored five points with a rebound, an assist and a steal. More importantly, she was able to call the defense and set up the offense.

"I was able to do non-contact drills for awhile, so I got to go through all the plays, how we're guarding screens and defense, just walking through things," Massengale said. "I felt like for the most part I knew what we were doing.

"I knew what the coaches wanted. I watched film with them and talked to them, drew up plays and did different things with them while I was out. When it was time to get on the court it was just time to go out there and play."

That, in a nutshell, is why the coaching staff has been excited about Massengale since she inked her LOI a year ago. She is a quick study and understands the point guard position from both sides of the ball.

"Oh my goodness," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said when asked about the relief felt by the coaches now that Massengale is back. "It's like a football team when their starting quarterback is out. She is just the epitome of a point guard.

"She makes some good decisions on the court, and it's hard to coach decision-making. You just have to teach them. When they don't have it, you just try to give them a game plan and say, ‘Do this more than you don't do this.'

"But she knows when to do it, when not to do it. She just makes really, really smart decisions and on top of that she's got the skills to back those decisions up. She can make plays."

Massengale is looking forward to having several practices on her resume before the second exhibition game. Tennessee plays Union University on Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. Eastern at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"Conditioning was a little tough (against Carson-Newman), because I had not been playing," Massengale said. "And just being out there with my teammates, learning how they play, moves they like to make, as a point guard that's something you have to be really good at.

"I feel like now I am able to do that with my teammates and adjusting on the court and getting better every day."

A major benefit of Massengale being on the court from the coaches' point of view is that she will be vocal with her teammates. However, she needs to be on the court to be able to do so, and the more repetitions she gets, the more comfortable she will be using that voice.

Tennessee's players have great chemistry off the court – the senior class is especially close after all they have endured – but they can play passively at times and have been hesitant to call each other out on the court.

"I think that will come in time," Massengale said. "If I would have been practicing the past three weeks that would have been something that would have shown in the game more. Just time and repetitions and learning to play with each other, and that will come.

"That is one thing about being on the sideline you get to watch and learn a lot of things. Actually being able to be here and see them practice it did help me."

If Thursday's practice is any guide, Massengale's voice will be heard sooner rather than later.

When a teammate isn't ready to receive a pass or doesn't make the right cut, it brings a scowl from Massengale right now. Words won't be far behind.

"I heard her today say something to somebody," DeMoss said. "She said, ‘You're not going game speed.' So she's getting on upperclassmen. We haven't had that. Our kids are going to respect her."

Massengale likes the up-tempo style on offense and aggressive approach on defense.

"I like to get the ball up the court and push it," Massengale said. "I am not someone who likes to run half-court offense that much. Get it up the floor. This team has so much ability that we can create so many opportunities in the open court."

Massengale has a solid build, especially for a freshman, combined with bursts of speed, even when dribbling the ball. She is the catalyst on offense that the Lady Vols have needed the past three seasons, but injuries forced players well out of position.

She also is an excellent on-ball defender. Unlike most freshmen she entered college with a foundation that was built in high school.

"My high school coach was one who was all about defense," Massengale said. "We would spend two hours of the three on defense and playing with USA basketball they are all about defense. I feel like I have been on teams that prepare me for this time."

The Lady Vols hope to unleash a full court zone press this season to take advantage of their athleticism and length.

"Having Glory (Johnson) up top, we are long, athletic, quick," Massengale said. "Those are all the things that you need to be successful in a press."

Massengale's introduction to that scheme came against Carson-Newman, as she had not yet practiced it with the team. The past two days she has been full go at practice and is finally getting repetitions on both sides of the ball.

Massengale's family is originally from Middle Tennessee - several family members still live there - and she grew up wanting to play for the Lady Vols. On Tuesday, she heard her name called to check in at the scorer's table.

"I was excited," Massengale said. "That was the first time I actually played basketball in three weeks. One, it being the game that I love and not being able to play it for awhile, and then to play it and have Tennessee across my chest … .

"I went out there and Vicki Baugh was like, ‘I see you in the game, freshman.' I was just really excited."

INJURY UPDATES: Kamiko Williams continues to look impressive on the sideline as she undergoes rehab exercises after knee surgery last summer.

On Thursday, the junior guard did sidewinders – lateral movement across the court and back that mimics defensive slides – and skipping and leaping the length of the court and back at Pratt Pavilion.

Williams is just a little over three months out of ACL surgery after she tore the ligament last July in a summer league game, and her recovery has been rather remarkable.

"She looks very good," Jenny Moshak said. "What we're doing right now is controlled activity. Everything that we're doing is very, very controlled, but she is getting stronger, she is getting more agile, she is getting quicker. The low level plyometrics that we are doing it's all on balance. So it's all good."

The rapid recovery has surprised even Moshak, but she noted that Williams had excellent musculature prior to the injury, and that can make a difference. The damage also was limited to one ligament.

"She was an isolated ACL," Moshak said. "She didn't have a meniscus. She didn't have an MCL. She didn't have a lot of bone bruising. If it's just the ACL it's a less complicated situation."

Senior guard Briana Bass sustained an arm injury in Tuesday's game and has been practicing with a thick wrap on her right hand and lower arm. Bass had diagnostic tests and was scheduled to see a physician to determine the extent of the injury.

Redshirt senior forward Vicki Baugh initially warmed up Tuesday, but then it was determined a day of rest would do her good. Baugh has a history of knee issues and the fact she hadn't needed a maintenance day before November was a good sign.

"She's fine," Moshak said.

Baugh was a tad annoyed with the decision, but Thursday's practice was full of defensive drills so Moshak made the call.

"She was mad, but with the weather (cold and rainy) and what we were doing it was time to save her knee (for later use)," Moshak said.

Baugh did some sideline rehab, but before the end of practice she was standing on the baseline and shouting instructions to her teammates.

Baugh has been a workhorse in practice in preseason, and she logged 21 minutes in the exhibition game. Coach Pat Summitt endorsed the decision to let Baugh watch the session.

"Vicki is outworking everybody else, so we gave her a day of rest," Summitt said.


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