By MIKE KAYS
There is a reason for everything. And in the case of Angel Goodrich, her journey at the University of Kansas testifies to it.
It’s taken the 5-foot-4 former Sequoyah High standout from trials to smiles — through not one but two ACL surgeries, one on each knee, and the struggle to return to the game that now, in the twilight of her career, has her in the NCAA Women’s Sweet 16 with a matchup Sunday against No. 2 Notre Dame at Norfolk, Va. The Irish are the top seed in that regional.
Without the trials, the smiles might’ve been taken for granted for the former Lady Indians who signed with Kansas in 2008.
She tore an ACL in October doing a crossover move in practice and then she tore the other as a sophomore during a game.
The mending wasn’t just with her knees.
“I learned a lot through it,” she said. “The first one was more mental because I had to open up to people around me and learn to trust them. I’ve always been that way about family and this was a situation away from that. Instead I’m opening up to coaches and teammates, opening up to trainers about how tough it was and receiving the love and care from a different support group than I was accustomed to.
“The second one was more physically difficult because I didn’t get back as quickly because of the range of motion and extension part, but by then I knew what was surrounding me.”
That presence of mind translated to the court in a big way.
After setting an Allen Fieldhouse record for most assists in a game (men’s or women’s) with 16 a year ago, the point guard became Kansas’ single-season and all-time assists leader this year, getting the latter mark in an upset of then No. 22 Oklahoma on Feb. 17. She is one of only eight players in Big 12 history to post 700 or more assists. She has 758.
Her 232 assists ranks her second in the Big 12 behind Iowa State’s Nikki Moody.
“She’s been exactly what I thought she was going to be in this league,” OU coach Sherri Coale said in a postgame statement in Lawrence, Kan., after Goodrich’s record-breaking night against her club. “I would have loved to have kept her home, but she’s had a great career here.”
By playing 21 more minutes, the first team All-Big 12 Conference guard will have also seen the floor over her career more than any other Jayhawk in history and has also joined the school’s 1,000 points club.
Still as soft-spoken as she was while leading Sequoyah to three consecutive Class 3A championships, she speaks with a sincere humility about those milestones.
“Any of those are not just about me but the people around me because ultimately they have to score for it to count in my favor. The way I look at it anything I’ve got has team around it.”
She’s watched two teammates go down with the same affliction she had a year ago.
“I’ve learned how to appreciate the moment and not take it for granted,” she said. “This part of my career is nearing an end but I don’t get caught up in that. At this point you just try and stay focused on the game ahead. You know it’s a win and you move on, lose and you’re done situation.”
While her primary role has been facilitator, Goodrich, who had 2,122 career points in four seasons at Sequoyah, has been a scoring spark as well. The seventh-leading scorer in the Big 12 at 14.4 points, she scored 20 points in the 12th-seeded Jayhawks’ 75-69 upset of South Carolina, 13 of those in the second half, and 14 in a 67-52 win against the fifth-seeded Colorado Buffaloes. She barely missed a double-double with eight assists in both games.
Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson has said on several occasions that Goodrich’s impact has elevated the Jayhawks program to a new level. Again, Goodrich’s humility speaks.
“I’m glad I’ve been in that role and on this team it’s been a great place to be in that role because everybody around me treats me and the information I pass on to them with respect,” Goodrich said. “That’s been the way we’ve operated as a team. I’ve been blessed here.”
And will continue to be blessed. She’s projected as a can’t miss top-10 WNBA draft pick. One mock draft has her going sixth to Seattle, three spots behind where the Tulsa Shock will select.
Ironically, Goodrich, who wanted to stay near home when she signed with Kansas, may wind up in the furthest WNBA city from home.
That’s OK. She’s toughened now, and not just in her knees.
“I’ve seen that (mock draft), and it’d be a nice place to play. I’m still a family person but at this point I know what’s ahead. Sue Bird (former University of Connecticut All-American) has been up there and knowing the kind of player she’s been, it would be neat to play with her or behind her.”
But first things first. Two wins in Norfolk puts Goodrich on one more collegiate stage — a Women’s Final Four.