In knee-d of a lift | SteamboatToday.com
Melinda Mawdsley

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In knee-d of a lift

Howard playing hurt to help Sailors

Henry Howard saw the MRI of his left knee. Then Dr. Eric Verploeg compared the black and white scanned image to the model of a healthy human knee.

“You could see something wasn’t quite right,” Howard said.

Howard had a torn anterior cruciate ligament, ripped lateral collateral ligament, ripped meniscus and some bone bruising.

In other words, Howard needed surgery, which would have brought an abrupt end to his senior season with the Steamboat Springs boys basketball team.

“The doctor told me it was a risk to play, but he was understanding that it was my senior season and there was nothing after this,” Howard said. “All I needed to hear was the ‘but.'”

Howard decided to put off surgery and resume practicing with the team. His first game back was Jan. 14 against Palisade, more than one month after he injured his knee. Howard didn’t contribute much in the first few weeks, but he has become a key reserve for the Sailors in the past few weeks.

His inside presence will be needed for Steamboat (20-2 overall) to make a run deep into the postseason. The Sailors open the first round of sub-regionals at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Steamboat Springs High School. The Sailors will face the winner of tonight’s Ranum (12-11) and Eagle Valley (10-11) game.

“We had just gone with the assumption that he was gone, other than being around for emotional support,” Steamboat coach Kelly Meek said. “It’s nice having his great positive frame of mind and his physical presence. He fears nothing.”

Actually, Howard was a bit timid in his first few games back. Mentally, he was hesitant to put pressure on his left knee.

“It wasn’t until recently I started to push myself,” Howard said. “I can do a lot more things than I thought I could.”

The Sailors also have fared better than some people thought. Picked — but not favored — to win the Western Slope League title in the preseason, Steamboat has not lost in more than two months. The Sailors garnered one of four No. 1 seeds for the postseason and have visions of playing in the Final Four in several weeks.

The road to get there won’t be easy, but the Sailors have upped their play in recent weeks, knowing the competition only gets better beginning Saturday night.

“Now, we are in a whole new season,” Howard said. “Six of the top seven guys have all played in a big playoff game. We want to go as far as we can. You feel the energy level going up.”

Steamboat won’t know until late tonight what team it plays. The Sailors are familiar with Eagle Valley, having beaten the Devils twice during the league season. Ranum, on the other hand, is somewhat of an unknown.

Meek is aware of Ranum’s Joe Ciancio, who with an average 25 points a game is Class 4A’s leading scorer. Other than that, he knows the Raiders finished fifth in the Class 5A Skyline League, so they are more than prepared to play in a tough environment against quality teams.

“The nice thing is we’ll be able to watch them tonight,” Meek said.

Meek has developed a reputation of churning out quality teams with boys who some may not consider the prettiest of basketball players. This year, however, the Sailors are blessed with talent and the wherewithal to use it.

When Howard heard the words season-ending surgery in December, he felt disconnected from the team. He still runs the risk of his knee giving out at any time, but he wanted to be a part of this team this year.

“My niche isn’t the big points scorer or the go-to guy,” he said. “It’s more the heart of the team.”

If Howard is indeed the pulse of the team, then the Sailors’ remarkable season should come as no surprise.

-To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com