Saturday, April 19, 2014
ORONO - What if?
Her playing career over after multiple knee injuries, Rachele Burns spent this season as a student assistant for the Black Bears.
Courtesy of the University of Maine
Burns plays for Gorham High in a 1-0 win over Bangor for the Class A soccer state title in 2005.
Telegram file photos
Sometimes Rachele Burns allows herself to ask that question.
"I try not to," she said. "But obviously it is something that I've thought about. What if I hadn't got hurt? Where would I be now?"
Burns, now 21, was one of the most dynamic girls' basketball recruits to come out of southern Maine. While playing at Gorham High her freshman and sophomore seasons, she attracted the attention of many college coaches.
Cindy Blodgett, then coaching at the University of Maine, offered Burns a scholarship.
Then, on Jan. 5, 2008, in the seventh game of her junior year at Gorham, everything changed. That's when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee -- for the first time.
It happened again her senior year.
Then again her freshman year at UMaine, in the Blue-White scrimmage.
And then, even more cruelly, she tore the ACL in her left knee her sophomore year.
Her playing career over, Burns spent this season as a student assistant for the Black Bears. She did whatever the coaches asked, including participating in practice drills if needed.
Her college career consisted of 13 games, 118 minutes, 26 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and seven steals.
"There's always what-ifs," said Burns, who wears braces on both knees whenever she steps onto the court. "But you can't change what happened, you can't change the past. Sometimes I wish you could."
Burns was on the team bus that careened across six lanes of highway and crashed into some trees on the way to Boston earlier this month.
She escaped with minor bumps and bruises. She also came out with an appreciation of all things.
"Mentally, we're all wondering how we're here, how grateful we are to be alive," she said. "There are a bunch of questions going through our minds.
"Mentally, this is a lot harder than going through the knee injuries. With them, after six months you get to go play and be happy again. This takes a toll on you. My knee injuries are small compared to what happened on that bus."
Blodgett knew Burns was special the first time she saw her play. Now an assistant at the University of Rhode Island, Blodgett was scouting another player when she noticed Burns, just a freshman at Gorham.
"She was a special kid," said Blodgett. "We were looking for a point guard who could score and run our team. She could do that. She played like a guy, and often that's the best compliment you can give."
Burns, an outstanding soccer and softball player as well, had that rare ability to break down defenders, pulling up for a jump shot or blowing by them for a layup.
"She had no weakness that I could see," said Gorham Coach Laughn Berthiaume. "She was athletic, physically strong, fast and she could jump. She shot at the height of her jump. She was difficult to guard.
"The other thing that set her apart from her peers was an intense desire to succeed. Her will to win was incredible. It's that X factor that you wish more athletes had."
Gorham had a record of 6-1, with Burns averaging 25 points per game, when the Rams played Thornton Academy on Jan. 5, 2008.
Very early on, said Burns, "We ran a back-screen play. The girl threw the ball over the top, I jumped to get it. When I came down, my knee buckled and I went down."
Trainers would test the knee and she was cleared to return. Seconds later, it gave out on her again and her junior season was over.
(Continued on page 2)
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Burns drives to the basket as Gorham plays in the Western Class A tourney in 2007.
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In April 2008, Burns was rehabbing from a knee injury suffered in basketball season.