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High Schools

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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Dzejna Ahmetovic returns to lead South Adams after a torn ACL ended her season last year.

Starfires’ star eager for memories

Lots of kids have splendid memories of winning a sectional basketball game or two.

Dzejna Ahmetovic’s memories from last season are different.

Things were rolling along nicely for South Adams’ star. She was averaging 11.2 points and 8.3 rebounds before falling in a defensive drill 10 days before the sectional opener at Bluffton and injuring her knee.

Priding herself on her toughness, she decided to grind through the pain and prepare for the Tigers.

But in the pregame warmups, her knee buckled in the layup line and she couldn’t get up.

She had torn her ACL.

Despite the disappointment, she took considerable pride in watching the Starfires defeat Bluffton 41-37 on Feb 5.

“It was a good memory for me to have, even though I couldn’t be out there,” said Ahmetovic, whose team defeated Churubusco 34-25 on Feb. 8 before losing to Bishop Luers 54-13 on Feb. 9 and finishing the season 9-13.

Why was it so great for Ahmetovic to see her team succeed without her? Because she could tell they weren’t sure they could do it without her.

“The girls just stuck with it,” she said. “I remember at one point, Sharon Balsiger came up to me and said, ‘I don’t know if we can do this. I’ve never played without you.’ ”

Seeing the Starfires rally may have made for nice memories, but Ahmetovic doesn’t want to repeat them in her senior season. She was determined to recover from her March surgery in time to be back for the start of this season.

“Before I went for the surgery, I worked with the trainer on trying to strengthen the muscles and then after surgery, literally the next day, I went to the therapist and did more work,” she said. “I really pushed myself so I could be healthy for the first practice.

“It took a lot of effort but it really paid off. It depends on how much you’re willing to work on it. It can be stressful and annoying doing same things over and over, but I didn’t want to miss any games.”

The 6-foot Ahmetovic is joined by 5-9 guard Alyssa Bluhm, who averaged 11.1 points; 5-10 forward Balsiger, who averaged 4.6 points and 8.1 rebounds; and newcomer Sydney Willis, a 5-7 guard who had been home-schooled until this year.

“Seeing (Willis) play basketball, you can see she has great potential and is a great ball handler,” Ahmetovic said. “And I’ll be able to work with her from down in the paint. She looks down the court and is very skilled.”

But much of the Starfires’ success could depend on how well Ahmetovic returns from her knee injury. She also tweaked her back shortly after getting medically cleared to play Oct. 28.

“Dzejna brings in the size but has a good mid-range shot,” South Adams coach Brett Freeman said. “For a post player, she’s a great free-throw shooter and was about 75 or 80 percent last year and that’s a great thing to have.”

And Ahmetovic cannot wait to start making some more memories with her teammates.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’ve always waited for my senior year to come around. I’m excited to see what the girls bring to the court this year and what we do as a unit. We have 15 girls, so we’re not a huge school, but we work with what we have. … and I’m excited to see how we do.”