Casey Midlik was ready to play basketball before she was born. Let’s explain.
Now a Medina senior, Midlik’s mother, Paula, was a longtime assistant coach at the school under John Semenik and later took over the program on an interim basis when Pat O’Brien resigned during the 2001-02 season. When Paula was pregnant with Casey, she still attended practices.
Legend has it that mothers can influence babies in the womb simply by talking to them, but it’s safe to assume Casey heard the sound of bouncing basketballs more than anything else.
“My mom drew me to the game,” she said. “When she was coaching and I was a baby, I was held by players. She then would hold me while she was coaching, so I guess that’s how I got into the game.
“I just like the game. I like how people play and run up and down the court. It’s a team effort.”
The sport has always been a part of Midlik’s life in one way or another. So, too, was soccer until she gave that up to focus on her other love, cross country.
Then, an AAU game Indianapolis during the summer of 2012 put everything on ice. Midlik used every inch of her 5-foot-6 frame to soar and attempt to tip in a rebound. Her right knee gave way when she landed.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened.
“It popped, and I knew it was my ACL,” she said.
The always active, almost-always talking Midlik couldn’t stand the eight months that followed. There was reconstructive surgery, mind-numbing rehab and having to give up cross country, but the physical pain couldn’t hold a candle to the mental frustration of being parked on the bench for the first half of last season.
That only made Midlik more determined to make the final games of her high school career count.
“It was really rough, especially since I couldn’t do any activities,” she said. “Me being such an active person, it was hard sitting out and watching, but last year’s team really helped me through it.”
It also helped turn her into a leader and an inspiration who the Bees named tri-captain before the beginning of last year.
The 18-year-old may as well have a patent on yelling, “Yaaaaaaaaa, (player’s name or nickname)” whenever a teammate makes a play. She also pumps them up in other ways — an invaluable asset to this winter’s inexperienced team — but isn’t afraid to point out when things need to change, either.
“I sat next to her every game, and there were times she was in tears because it was so frustrating, but I told her at the beginning of (last) year, ‘You’re going to have an impact even though you’re not in uniform because you’re going to learn how to be a leader and you’re going to see things the coaches see,”’ coach Karen Kase said. “A light bulb went off and she said, ‘OK, I can make the most of this crappy situation,’ and she did.
“There were times that it was really, really tough, but I think it made her a better player because she can see things a little bit better and she’s a way better leader — a way better leader.”
Midlik doesn’t just talk the talk. She walks it, too, because of a simple realization: Nailing 3-pointers is a valuable skill, but playing with heart is what separates the real players from the wannabees.
As a sophomore, Midlik averaged 8.3 points and was fifth in Medina County with 33 3-pointers. She then averaged just 1.4 points in 15 games while easing her way back into the rotation in 2012-13 but hit big postseason buckets.
This year, she’s the starting shooting guard and, without a doubt, the Bees’ emotional leader. The chuck-and-duck days are pretty much gone, too, as only 12 of Midlik’s 35 field goals have been from long distance.
The trade-off is Midlik, who doesn’t wear a knee brace, now averages 11.3 points and ranks among county leaders in one official category with 42 free throws. The unofficial category is bumps and bruises from diving for loose balls or hitting the floor with a thud while driving to the cup.
That latter number is almost impossible to calculate.
“I’m really good at that,” she quipped. “Our team’s all about hustle, so every time I go after the ball I hit the floor.”
Becoming a more-rounded player has put Midlik in position to play collegiately. ACL reconstruction doesn’t scare schools nowadays — girls are nearly twice as likely to have the surgery as boys — and Midlik’s leadership and shooting abilities have drawn interest from Division II Notre Dame College and NAIA Lourdes University in Sylvania.
Making a selection on that front is secondary to Midlik because sitting next to coaches Chris Hassinger, Kase and Mitch Charvat last season taught her one thing: Live in the moment.
The dream of four straight Northeast Ohio Conference River Division championships is still in her mind, especially now that Medina (5-6, 3-1) trails North Royalton (11-1, 3-0) by a half-game.
“We’re coming together as a team,” she said. “We’re hustling our butts off in practice and we’re pushing through our schedule.
“Our goal is to win conference. That’s what we’ve been talking about since the summer. That’s our No. 1 goal.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.