St. Mary’s Ryken has a long legacy of sending girls basketball players to NCAA Division I and II schools. The latest player to join the long list comes as some sort of a miracle.
Point guard Kaela Dothard, who got injured and had to sit the remaining five games of the Knights’ season and is still in the recovery stage, still had a Division I school that wanted her: the University of Hartford.
Dothard injured her labrum, the piece of rubbery tissue that holds the shoulder socket in place, early in the season. After trying to play through it the rest of the season, had to forgo playing those final few games of her high school career.
“I played a little bit of point guard and shooting guard this season,” she said. “It was kind sad, because I tore my labrum in my shoulder and couldn’t play for the last few games, and it was fun and I had a lot of fun playing for Ryken. I will miss them, and the whole team are like sisters and it will be hard leaving, but I have to.”
St. Mary’s Ryken head girls basketball coach Toyja Somerville had to accept losing a key player like Dothard over the course of the season.
“Kaela is a natural leader, super passionate about the sport and is a really good student of the game,” Somerville said. “She got injured early in the season, played through it and missed the last part of the season. Prior to that she was in the top-20 in the DMV for threes and twos, and in the top-25 for free-throw percentage. And when she got injured it was a big blow to the program.
“Those numbers in our conference, because it is a tough conference, those numbers were big and when you lose that it’s a big blow.”
Dothard, however, is happier than ever to be almost fully recovered from an injury that almost kept her off the court her entire senior season with the Knights, and now gets to join a Hartford roster which competes in the America East Conference.
“Division I, honestly is really fulfilling,” she said. “I feel really proud because it’s my dream. It means a lot to me.”
Recovering from an injury like Dothard has struggled with is not going to be easy.
“She is just now starting to get back to working out,” Somerville said. “The surgery went well, and it’s a six-month recovery. She told me now she can do pushups and is excited about that. I mean the girl is excited about pushups. We are just now getting her back into the gym and we are conditioning and shooting.”
Dothard is confident that she can get back in shape over the summer with Somerville’s help before she makes the long drive to Connecticut.
The two will start with morning workouts next week and progress to things that she can do like ball-handling, defensive skills and things that don’t require the full range of her arm.
“[Hartford] sent me a workout packet, which is mainly just strengthening full body workouts,” Dothard said. “They give me a different workout daily and every three weeks your repeat. They also have a de-mode week, which is active recovery, hiking, swimming, cycling or walking, things that help keep your body moving, which will help with the soreness.”
Dothard’s family is proud that she is pursuing her dream.
“Well for my dad, it was kind of hard for him because it will be harder for him to get up there,” she said. “But my mom is happy for me to be going somewhere where I love it and she feels like the coaches have my best interest at heart and its like a family up there.”
Somerville was instrumental in helping Dothard find the school that she wanted to go to and push her in the right direction.
“Coach ‘T’ is not just my basketball coach,” Dothard said. “I call her my life coach, and she is very supportive in everything that I do. It’s very similar to like a second mom.”
Somerville might be sad to see Dothard going so far away, but she is glad that she will make an impact on her new team.
“I wanted the coaches to know about Kaela, and there was a lot of talking about what is it you want to do inside and outside of basketball in college, helping her find the right fit for her,” Somerville said. “Most of our kids that are leaving from here and going on to play, stay where they go. We don’t want them to transfer.
“As long as she’s happy we are happy, it will make for a pretty long car ride to go visit her, but she instantly fell in love with the program and people when she went there. The coaches have changed, but she’s had communication with them and the teammates, and is still happy.”
Recently, University of Hartford had a coaching change as Morgan Valley became the school’s new head coach, but that didn’t effect Dothard’s choice to want to play there.
“They were one of three offers that I had, and for my major it was the best choice for me. I loved the coaches that wee there when I first signed,” she said. “Those coaches are gone now, they left, they were very welcoming and made everything seem really nice and like it was a real family up there. It’s really far from home and I don’t want to just feel like business because that’s not what basketball is for me, so they made it feel good.”
Somerville said: “I know the student that she is and her work ethic. I believe that Kaela will go up there and make her mark on the program whether it’s in first or second year depending on what their rotations look like and how her injury heals. What I do know is while she is in Hartford, she will be a positive contribution to the program and make her mark there.”
Dothard is ready to make her mark with the Hawks.
“I’ve met all of the players on the team. They are all really cool and welcoming,” she said. “They all talked to me and showed me around. I really just want to contribute like I know I’m supposed to, be successful and prove why I’m supposed to be there.”