Five years after injury, Wallace playing for UMaine women’s basketball team

Posted Jan. 07, 2014, at 6:04 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 07, 2014, at 9:20 p.m.
The University of Maine's Cherrish Wallace (left) drives past Yale University's Sarah Halejian during their game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor Sunday.
The University of Maine's Cherrish Wallace (left) drives past Yale University's Sarah Halejian during their game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor Sunday. Buy Photo
The University of Maine's Cherrish Wallace (center) goes up for a shot between Yale University's Zenab Keita (right) and Sarah Halejian during their game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor Sunday.
The University of Maine's Cherrish Wallace (center) goes up for a shot between Yale University's Zenab Keita (right) and Sarah Halejian during their game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor Sunday. Buy Photo
Cherrish Wallace
University of Maine
Cherrish Wallace

ORONO, Maine — Cherrish Wallace enrolled at Baylor University in 2008 with lofty basketball goals.

Before she had the chance to prove herself, the shifty point guard from Pasadena, Calif., had her dreams shattered by injury.

Nearly six years later, Wallace is back on the court — at the University of Maine.

She posted 15 points and eight assists Sunday in the Black Bears’ 86-85 loss to Yale at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

“It’s exciting,” she said of being able to play basketball again.

“I’m happy to be back out there,” added Wallace, who played her first game in almost five years Jan. 1 at Wisconsin-Green Bay.

UMaine plays Maryland Baltimore County on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in an America East game in Bangor.

Wallace had a painful — and painfully brief — playing career at Baylor. As a freshman during 2008-2009, she suffered a serious stress fracture in her right leg.

The injury in September 2009 required doctors to insert a titanium rod in her right tibia.

“My shin had split across, so I had to get a rod to connect my shin back together and make one bone. And I have a screw in my ankle as well,” Wallace said matter-of-factly.

She appeared in 11 games for Baylor as a freshman. Wallace was on the bench when Baylor won the NCAA national championship in 2012.

“I was a student assistant and I still got to travel and be with the team,” said Wallace, who appreciates Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey allowing her to stay involved.

UMaine head coach Richard Barron was the associate coach and recruited Wallace to play at Baylor.

“As she rehabbed and tried to come back in her sophomore year, the pain was pretty bad in her knee. She was not able to overcome that,” Barron said.

In 2012, Wallace had surgery to remove the screws that secured the rod. That changed everything.

“All of a sudden her knee pain went away,” Barron said. “Now she’s thinking, ‘Hey, I kind of feel pretty good. I wish I could still play.’”

Wallace, who in 2012 earned a degree in general studies and education from Baylor, had begun playing again to pursue a pro career. Toward that end, she got in touch with Barron.

“We knew Coach Barron was a man that was well-connected in the basketball side of the world and probably in the business world,” said Wallace, who spoke with him in late August and arrived in Orono on Sept. 9.

UMaine’s compliance department, led by Eileen Flaherty, submitted a petition to the NCAA on behalf of Wallace for a sixth year of eligibility. That required a special eligibility waiver from the NCAA, which allows scholarship student-athletes five years in which to complete four years of competition.

“Credit to the people [who have] been behind me,” she said. “That’s Coach Barron and all the coaching staff and the faculty that’s been helping me, they’ve been working their butts off trying to get me back.”

Wallace, who had practiced with the Black Bears during the first semester, finally was cleared to play in December.

“I think for me it was about self-fulfillment,” Wallace said of playing at UMaine. “I didn’t like the way I left off and that’s all it was about, more of a spiritual thing.”

Wallace has made an immediate impact. She is averaging 11.5 points, 4.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 21.5 minutes per game thus far.

She provides an attacking presence at point guard and appears to have a knack for making things happen. Barron said her influence goes beyond physical skills.

“She brings experience from a program where there’s a different intensity in terms of the competitiveness,” Barron said.

“She’s an intense competitor. I think that’s a great example for our kids,” he added.

Wallace’s teammates are still adjusting to her tendencies. Against Yale, she made at least two passes that seemed to surprise the intended recipient.

“Sometimes, she’s driving down the lane and, all of a sudden, I have the ball in my hands and I don’t know how it got there,” joked UMaine sophomore Liz Wood.

There were other assists that had the fans cheering in the stands.

“Playing with Cherry’s really fun,” Wood said. “You always have to be ready for a pass.”

Wallace is appreciative of the opportunity to play college ball again.

“I’m just happy to come out here and know that I’ll be able to give it a try,” said Wallace, who doesn’t worry about whether her leg and ankle will hold up.

“Injury’s the last thing on my mind.”

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