She began undergoing treatment and taking medication, and she tried to get herself healthy enough to play. But after just a few practices with the symptoms, which included rapid heart rate, weight loss and muscle weakness, it was clear Strickland wasn't going to be ready to play that year.

"You could just tell she was slow and fatigued," Gaitley said. "You could totally see the physical effects."

At the end of that season, Strickland applied for a hardship waiver from the NCAA. And, with the help of Staley and Terps coach Brenda Frese, she got it.

Now, playing in a rare sixth year of eligibility, Strickland is enjoying the best season of her career.

She's averaging a team-high 14.7 points per game and she led the Rams to an unexpected 22-7 record and the No. 3 seed in this weekend's conference tournament, earning a spot on the All-Atlantic 10 second team.

Not bad for a player who thought her career was over just two years ago.

"I had a tough time near the end there at South Carolina," Strickland said. "I felt my illness coming on. I thought that I was finished."

Clearly, she isn't. She'll have a chance to help lead Fordham to its first-ever Atlantic 10 championship this weekend, and she'll graduate from the university with a master's degree in urban studies.

Said Strickland: "It's a blessing."

jvitale@baltsun.com

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