E.A. Sports Today

Shuler looks forward

Ohatchee junior just trying to focus on the games after coming back from some scary health issues in the fall

Ohatchee players Kourtney Shuler (front left) and Ben Glass watch some of the other teams play during Saturday’s first day of the Calhoun County Basketball Tournament.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Kourtney Shuler is back in the game and she couldn’t be happier; a little more cautious, perhaps, but happier nonetheless.

The 17-year-old junior is a big reason the Ohatchee girls basketball team is playing a second-round game in the Calhoun County Tournament today, but it wasn’t that long ago she was on the sidelines with family, friends and coaches concerned for her well-being.

A couple scary episodes during the cross country season left her to face an uncertain future and a battery of tests to determine what was affecting her health. She’s been back on the floor since Thanksgiving and savors every moment she’s there.

“It just makes me want to play every basketball game like it’s my last, because I may not be able to play another one,” she said.

The problem first presented this past fall. She ran in the 28s at Cold Springs that coach Casey Howell chalked up to an off performance that sometimes creeps into her season, and she collapsed shortly after finishing.

The concern moved to the next level at the Indians’ Terrortorium race in mid-October. Shuler ran 22:22.14 — eighth-place and a PR — three weeks removed from the Cold Springs episode, but almost immediately after crossing the finish line everything went black.

The other times she had passed out from running it had been only for a few seconds. This time she was out for a harrowing couple minutes.

“It was just really scary,” she said.

That episode prompted a battery of tests and doctors visits. Her local doctor tested her iron levels, and then sent her to Birmingham to check her heart. Ultimately, she was discovered to have a weakened heart valve and it was determined the blood vessels in her legs weren’t functioning properly affecting her blood pressure, a condition common to long distance runners. The doctor she visited told her his runner daughter had the same condition.

Well, that put an end to her running season, meaning the multiple all-county and all-sectional runner would miss the county, sectional and state championships. She will compete in indoor and outdoor track meets this semester.

The condition also threatened to keep Shuler off the basketball court, but she was cleared to play the day her team opened in the Champions Sports Academy Thanksgiving Classic. She went straight from the doctor’s office to the arena and wound up making several big shots down the stretch to help the Lady Indians win.

“To me it was scary just knowing how hard she worked,” Ginn said. “She stays in the gym and I was so afraid, really for her life. And then you take an athlete who’s worked her tail off and take all that stuff from them through something that’s out of their control I was afraid how she might handle it. It’s awesome she’s getting to play.”

Things have been pretty normal since she’s returned. She did feel a little off at school a few days after returning, but has reported no other issues since. She diligently monitors her numbers and regulates the condition with medication.

The coaches, meanwhile, have been good about giving her breaks when she appears to be wavering, but she doesn’t want any special treatment.

“It’s just something I try not to think about it,” Shuler said. “I try to put my teammates ahead of myself and just think about the game. It’s just something I have to push through and not really let it get to me. If I need a break coach Ginn will know and I’ll come out and when I get back ready I’ll go back in.

“It’s just knowing my limits, knowing what I can and can’t do. My body lets me know when something needs to happen.”

And her game is just now rounding into shape. Shuler had perhaps her best game of the year in Saturday’s first-round win over Donoho. She scored a game-high 16 points and closed out the 43-38 upset by corralling what she called a “perfect” half-court pass from Jazmine Adams and converting it into the layup that turned back the Lady Falcons’ final threat.

“I told them on the radio probably this last week of games, week of practices, has been the best she’s played ever, finally living up to what we see her potentially being,” Ginn said. “That’s what we’ve been waiting on her to do. You’ve seen flashes of it, but she’s done great job last week or so.”

The Ohatchee girls play sixth-seeded Wellborn Monday at 3 p.m.

Kourtney Shuler, shown running in the Waffle House Invitational in September, had her running season cut short by medical issues. She has returned for basketball and will compete in indoor and outdoor track. (Photo and cover photo by Carrie Howell)

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