One would be hard-pressed to find anyone who enjoyed the first day of high school girls basketball practice more than Geneva's Sidney Santos did Monday afternoon.
For starters, Santos simply got through Day 1 without having to spend any time in a hospital emergency room.
Two years ago as an incoming freshman, Santos suffered the unthinkable when she landed awkwardly during a layup drill less than 30 minutes into the Vikings' first varsity practice.
The injury diagnosis -- a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in her right knee -- sidelined Santos for the remainder of her freshman campaign.
Last year, lightning struck a second time as Santos was forced to watch her entire sophomore season from the same spot on the bench after re-tearing her ACL in the same knee.
So you can excuse Santos for wanting to dance "Gangnam style" after Monday's practice.
"This is my longest season so far," said the 6-foot, 1-inch junior.
"This first day (of practice) definitely means more than anything to me," added Santos. "I can't describe how happy I am to be playing with these girls. This is my favorite part of the year, playing basketball with them and spending time with them."
While a lot of people would have felt sorry for themselves, following the old adage, "if it wasn't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all," Santos takes a different philosophical approach.
"Sure, you have occasions where your knee hurts and you can't help to think there's something wrong but my parents always support me and my sister (Ashley) gives me encouraging words to get through it," said Santos.
"I also believe that everything happens for a reason and it honestly did make me love basketball even more," she added. "I pushed myself harder than I would have if the injuries had never occurred."
Geneva coach Sarah Meadows is happy to have Santos back on the court.
"It's exciting," said Meadows, who welcomes a strong nucleus of players back from last year's team that captured its fourth straight regional title and finished 24-6. "She looks great. She has worked her tail off. She is probably going to put some pressure on herself to perform but it will all come together and she'll do just fine. She should have a good year."
Santos is ready for the challenge.
"I think I'm the type of player who is motivated," she said. "I will do anything for my teammates. It has to be all of us or nothing."
Meadows likes Santos' perseverance and versatility.
"Sidney can do a lot of different things," said the coach. "We're going to give her the opportunity to do all of those things.
"She can post up, she can hit a 3 (-pointer), and she can take care of the ball for us. She just wants to prove to everybody that she can play. I know she's ready to go."
Geneva begins its season on Nov. 17 at the Glenbard East-Rachel Bach Tournament in Lombard.
Expectations are also high at St. Charles East, where the Saints lost just 3 players to graduation from a team that finished 14-13 last season.
Heading the list of returnees are varsity veterans Paige Jordan (14.5 ppg), Amanda Hilton, Kyra Washington, Carly Pottle and Laney Deckrow.
"Expectations are high probably because we've got a lot of people coming back," said Saints coach Lori Drumtra. "But we play such a tough schedule.
"The Schaumburg tournament that we start off with has gotten even tougher now that they've added Montini to a field that already included Wheaton Warrenville South, Schaumburg, and Glenbrook South," added Drumtra. "It's a tough way to start out but the positive thing is that no matter how we do, we always seem to be ready for the rest of the season."
While putting her team through a series of ball-handling and layup drills, emphasizing outlet passing and backdoor cuts, Drumtra readily admits that opening day has its share of pitfalls.
"The first day is a little chaotic," said the coach. "You're never quite sure how many girls you'll have coming out and there are always some surprises. The new kids aren't quite sure about your routine.
"It's not as smooth as you would like it to be on the first day. But I think that goes for everybody."
Entering her third year on varsity, Deckrow is looking forward to a memorable season.
"It's exciting," Deckrow said of Monday's opening practice. "I think with it being my senior year and all, we really want to go out with a bang. This team has a lot of potential."
Deckrow also wants to make amends for her recently completed cross country campaign.
"My cross country season didn't go well," said Deckrow, who was hampered by a bruised shin. "I only got to run once so being back with the team and being able to play again -- it's great to be back."
You can reach Craig Brueske at email@example.com