When the Mount St. Mary's women's basketball team plays at No. 13 Alabama tomorrow in the NCAA tournament, it will be in Susie Rowlyk's best interest not to get too excited. But it would seem near impossible for her not to celebrate.
With her swollen right eye opening up yesterday, Rowlyk now can play in the first round of the East Regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala., with protective goggles.
Although Rowlyk, a 6-foot-2 senior center, is elated at the chance to play again, she knows the consequences of not being able to control her emotions. In an unusual accident, she injured her eye in a collision with an official during the celebration of the Northeast Conference tournament championship victory Saturday.
"I just didn't see him," said Rowlyk, a two-time Northeast Conference Player of the Year and the Mountaineers' leading scorer and shot-blocker. "I was just so excited we won that I ran out onto the court and into the back of an official."
For the previous three days, it was unsure whether Rowlyk would play another game for the Mount because of the swelling of her eye. During the selection show Sunday, Rowlyk couldn't help feeling disappointed at the possibility of not playing.
It's one of the few times she can remember ever being calm concerning basketball.
"It was scary and frustrating until my eye opened up," she said. "I was upset because I really never was injured in four years of college. Now something freaky like this happens. It's scary because I wouldn't be able to reap the goals that we put into the season."
The only part of coming back that Rowlyk fears are the goggles, which she has only worn since last night.
"I have had nightmares where the goggles fog up while I'm playing and I can't see," she said. "But I try not to let it worry me. Other than that, I can't wait to play."
Coach Bill Sheahan tried to cheer Rowlyk up after the injury by telling her she finally got to retaliate against Rowlyk's toughest opponent -- the officials. In 28 games this season, Rowlyk has averaged three personal fouls, fouling out of four contests.
With fouls limiting her to 25 minutes per game, Rowlyk still has averaged 15.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals.
Rowlyk usually gets into trouble in the first few minutes, often picking up two quick fouls by trying to do too much too soon. The problem led to a one-on-one meeting between Sheahan and Rowlyk midway through the season.
"It was her call, but we talked about her not starting so she could get better under control," Sheahan said. "She gets quite pumped up at the beginning of games, and I thought it would be better to give her two or three minutes on the bench to see the flow of the game."
After not starting nine games, Rowlyk was eager to return.
She started the final six games, scoring 83 points in the first four. In the Mount's final regular-season game, Rowlyk scored a career-high 33 points against Monmouth.
And Rowlyk's success usually coincides with Mount St. Mary's victories. In games in which she has scored 16 or more points, the Mount's record is 11-1, with 10 straight wins.
But the issue about her foul problem arises especially during the NCAA tournament. Last year in Mount St. Mary's 70-47 first-round loss at Iowa, Rowlyk was limited to playing just 3:18 in VTC the first half because of two fouls.
"I get so excited when the game starts," said Rowlyk, a Chemistry major, who has a 3.56 GPA. "I know I shouldn't, but I get so impatient and want to create things. I can't help it, I know I have to be more conservative. But it seems when I miss a shot that I am always going over the back for the rebound. That's when I get into problems."
Game: Mount St. Mary's (24-5) vs. Alabama (20-8).
What: First round, NCAA women's tournament East Regional.
Where: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
When: Tomorrow, approximately 9:30 p.m.