BILLINGS – Brittany Albers simply wouldn’t listen. And although nearly everyone she knows wondered why she’s kept playing basketball the past three years, all she had to do was look at the small piece of hardware atop her dresser at home to remind her of the answer.
Sure, there were times when the Reed Point-Rapelje senior forward thought she was being sent a sign. She just wasn’t willing to acknowledge it.
“Sometimes I would think maybe God’s plan for me wasn’t to play basketball,” Albers said.
Anyway, it didn’t matter what plans others had for her. Albers’ plan was to play basketball. Five knee surgeries — that’s right, five — and three torn ACLs in less than four years weren’t going to stop her.
Not a high school year has gone by that Albers hasn’t had to deal with surgery or the subsequent rehab, starting when she first tore her left ACL during a basketball session in gym class the fall of her freshman year.
Since then Albers has had three ACL surgeries, a clean-up surgery and meniscus surgery. That long list includes this past summer, when Albers had both knees surgically repaired in a span of five weeks.
That ordeal started in Australia last summer. She was warming up for a basketball game during a tour Down Under of high school players when a teammate stepped on Albers' left foot. Though her body moved, the foot stayed put.
Immediately she knew. Another blown ACL, her second. When she returned to Montana, an August scope revealed a meniscus injury, as well. She had the meniscus repaired, but chose not to have ACL surgery, knowing the rehab time wouldn’t allow her to play her junior season with the Renegades.
So, she braced up her left knee and gutted it through. She made it, too, all the way through the regular season, until the district tournament when she went up for a layup, got bumped, and landed awkwardly. Then came that all-too-familiar sensation. The right knee was gone, too. ACL No. 3.
“It’s very, very painful, the worst pain I’ve ever felt,” Albers said. “It’s like a pop, then it goes away and a few seconds later my whole leg is on fire. It’s not something you get used to.”
Next came the hardest part and her lowest point. Even though Jen Bilharz knew her daughter to be “very strong-willed,” she could see Albers was struggling with the rehab process after the back-to-back surgeries. Bilharz sat her daughter down for a talk, to give Albers the chance to back out of the deal she had made with herself.
Maybe it was time, Bilharz told her daughter, to give up basketball.
“Her response was ‘why did I go through all this then?’ ” Bilharz recalled. “That was the end of that talk.”
The peaks and valleys of the double surgery eventually got better, and Albers was cleared to play just before this season started. Albers is one of two seniors on the Renegades — Nynah Bryant is the other — who are hoping to advance out of the 6C tournament next month.
Albers continues to wear a brace on her left knee, and she says the surgeries haven’t impacted her game. At 5-foot-7 she’s most comfortable in the post and is averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds per game, second-best on the team in both categories.
Coach Trish Hess agrees that Albers plays without limitations. Or abandon.
“She pushes it to the full extent of what she can do,” Hess said. “If there’s a loose ball, she’s usually the first one down on the floor going for it.”
That, of course, makes both coach and mother nervous. But it’s just another example of why Albers went through all that she has.
Her childhood dream was to play college basketball. So far, that hasn’t become a reality, though she’s not giving up hope. Albers rodeos, as well — she competes in pole bending — but it’s the basketball court where she feels she belongs.
Even if basketball seems to take more from her than it gives in return.
“Honestly, the love I have for the sport trumps everything,” she said. “I don’t even know how to explain it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t just keep coming back. The feeling I have when I play is so hard to explain.”
She can, however, explain the two-inch surgical screw on top of her dresser. It was removed after her first ACL surgery when her body rejected the hardware, and it’s significance isn’t lost on her.
“I look at it,” she said, “and just see all the stuff I had to go through.”