Daiva Gerbec seemed poised for big things in her third year with the Ashland University women's basketball team.
The Dublin resident and 2009 Watterson High School graduate was coming off a breakthrough sophomore season and looking to play a big role for the Eagles last winter.
But everything changed at the sound of the beep.
"We were doing this thing called 'the beep test' (during a preseason conditioning drill last Sept. 17)," Gerbec said. "We have this device that beeps and you have to sprint to the next line before the next beep. On my last time, as I stepped on the line and pivoted, I thought someone had kicked me really hard."
Gerbec, a 6-foot forward, had sustained a tear in her left Achilles' tendon. She fell to the floor and knew her plans for the season would have to be put on hold.
"I knew right away something catastrophic had happened," she said. "It was just a rush of emotions. It was a life-changer in a split second."
"It was devastating for us," Ashland coach Sue Ramsey said. "We were just kind of wondering how we were going to make up for that void."
But instead of demoralizing her teammates, Ramsey said Gerbec's injury brought them together. After losing their opener to Minnesota State Mankato 63-46 last Nov. 12, the Eagles won 33 in a row before losing to Shaw (N.C.) 88-82 in overtime in the NCAA Division II national championship game March 23 in San Antonio.
"It's such a dream to go to the national championship game, but not being able to participate was a big disappointment," Gerbec said. "I really felt like an outsider ... at the beginning of the year. I definitely learned how to be excited for others."
Ramsey, who was named Division II Coach of the Year, said Gerbec's support for her teammates played a key role in the season.
"She was as much a part of our success as the people who were playing," Ramsey said. "She has a real, genuine, heartfelt concern for her teammates. She's not one to say, 'How you doing today?' She says, 'Tell me about your day.' She wants to know how you are and what is going on."
Gerbec's injury followed a sophomore season in which she drastically improved her scoring and rebounding. After a freshman season in which she averaged 10.4 points and 5.5 rebounds, she averaged 15.9 points and 10.7 rebounds in 2010-11. Her rebounding average and 311 total rebounds were program records for a season.
Gerbec was named first-team all-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and all-Midwest Region. She also was honorable mention All-America.
"By the end of my freshman year, I understood my coach's philosophy and what it meant to be a college athlete," Gerbec said. "Instead of being individuals, we were really focused on being a team. I was able to thrive a lot in that environment."
Ramsey said Gerbec had pushed herself in the offseason to be ready for the 2011-12 season.
"The injury was quick, immediate and devastating," Ramsey said.
"I remember being with her in the hospital room. She never asked, 'Why is this happening to me?' She quickly accepted it. She was an unbelievable patient as far as rehabbing and doing what was asked of her to get back."
Gerbec was redshirted, so she still has two years of eligibility remaining.
"I couldn't imagine not playing basketball for a year," she said. "I had been playing basketball since I was in fourth grade. To have it come crashing down in one day was hard news to take in."
But she has made a full recovery from the injury.
"It's driving me more than I expected," Gerbec said. "Being able to see the national championship (game) and our whole community get so excited was unbelievable. It makes that dream seem so much more tangible, so you're more willing to work for it."