Sam Heisig and Emily Russo have been teammates and “partners in crime” since the fifth grade. The duo helped Glenelg win the past two county girls basketball championships and had aspirations of leading the program to a three-peat together as seniors. That goal took a step back, however, as Heisig tore her anterior cruciate ligament over the summer and has been sidelined so far this season.
Heisig’s scheduled return date of Jan. 1 meant that the all-county pair would reunite on the court and help the Gladiators make a midseason push. But it was not to be.
Just five games in, Russo - the reigning Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Player of the Year - suffered the same ACL injury and will miss the rest of the season.
Heisig knows that her return means that much more to Glenelg (3-3 in county) now.
“I’m nervous but I’ve been counting down the days for so long now,” she said. “Emily’s news is so unfortunate. It breaks my heart and makes me that much more nervous to come back. It puts more on my shoulders but in a good way, and it’s my time to actually step up and carry the team. I've always had her there to split the job.”
And Russo knows that the timing of the injury couldn’t have been worse.
She scored her 1,000th point Dec. 10 against Atholton, and finishes her stellar high school career with 1,042 points. The University of Maryland-Baltimore County commit was averaging 15.4 points per contest before the injury — including a season-high 22 points against Howard in the season opener.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Russo said. “The timing of it was awful because of course it happens as soon as Sam gets back. But you have to look at the big picture. I’ll be playing at UMBC next year and if this would have happened during lacrosse season, I would have been out for (my freshman) season. If it were to happen, I think this would have been the best time.”
Glenelg has posted wins in each of the three contests since Russo’s injury, so the young team full of freshmen and sophomores have persevered despite the setback.
“Our team has been able to step up, and once Sam gets back, we’ll be good to go,” Russo said. “They were able to make some adjustments and grow in their own way. They’ve learned to play without Sam and I."
Senior post Kristin Yuan has averaged 10 points over that three game stretch that included wins over Oakland Mills, Southern and Meade. Junior Olivia Nowlin has also stepped up, scoring 13 per contest.
“The team has been playing well. It took us a while because we’ve had injuries but we’ve had these games before I come back so they can see that they can win and do stuff on their own," Heisig said. "They don’t need to have that one lead player.”
The Gladiators are three games behind Reservioir and River Hill in the standings, but with 13 county games, there is plenty of time to make up ground. Having Heisig — who has scored 811 career points and averaged 12.1 per game last season — back in the mix will be a big help.
Heisig, however, doesn't want the team or anyone else to think that she is planning to return and immediately taking the league by storm.
“I don’t think I’m going to come in and have people say, ‘Oh my gosh. Look at her go,’ and I don't want anyone to think that either,” Heisig said. “I’m just going to go out, play and have some fun ... I’m just excited to play again.”
Meanwhile, Russo — always the competitor — is ready to take on the challenge of her new role: assistant coach.
“It's more of a supporting role. Instead of the leadership role on the court, I'll be a little voice in their ear different from the coaches because it's kind of a player's perspective,” Russo said. “I might not be on the court with them, but Sam and I are both captains and it doesn't make us any less valauble.”