When sophomore utility player Nicole Dalton stepped onto the court in the Lobo Classic last weekend, it was the culmination of a year-and-a-half of hard work and rehab.
Following the Longhorns’ national title run in 2012, Dalton had surgery on her left and right hips last season, forcing her to sit out for the majority of the year.
After a tough rehab, Dalton returned to the court Friday against UTEP and played a key part in Texas’ three wins over the weekend.
“I’ve been waiting for almost a year-and-a-half to get back onto the court,” Dalton said. “It felt good to just get out there and play.”
In her freshman year, Dalton played in 31 of the Longhorns’ 35 matches and posted a .206 hitting percentage, along with 35 kills and 184 digs. But two days after Texas claimed its national title, Dalton underwent surgery on her left hip to help fix a labral tear.
Dalton, a Colorado native, went through the rehab process during the offseason, only to have a setback with her right hip, forcing her to have a second surgery in September and redshirt last season.
“It’s almost been a year, and I’m slowly but surely getting back onto the court,” Dalton said.
Dalton described her time away from the court as one of the hardest things she’s done. However, during that time, Dalton found a new role for herself on the team as almost another assistant coach, helping the setters figure out where to go with the ball.
“They were really good with communicating with me and taking my feedback,” Dalton said.
While the typical length of recovery for Dalton’s injury is six to eight months, it took her eight to ten months to complete her rehab. And once team doctors cleared her for action, winning a spot on the court wasn’t an easy task, considering the Longhorns’ stacked lineup. Still, Dalton was confident she would make the most of her opportunities and win a spot on the roster.
In three matches this past weekend, she totaled 56 assists and 19 digs and was named to the all-tournament team.
Head coach Jerritt Elliott is finally ready to have Dalton back. With such a young team, he hopes Dalton contiues to be a leader off the court, as she makes her way back on it.
“Everybody thinks that this is a great team at this point, but we are extremely young in terms of the amount of time players have had on the court,” Elliott said. “[Dalton] has done a really nice job of being a veteran in this program and leading them and having the confidence to keep them calm.”
With both hips now healed and the Longhorns eyeing a return to the national championship, Dalton isn’t worried about injuries. Instead, she simply wants to play her game.
“I have nothing to lose,” Dalton said. “Everything’s fixed.”