If Nicole Serpa decides to become a coach, she’ll likely have these pieces of advice for her players about rebounding:
“You can’t be afraid.”
“You just have to go after it.”
“You can’t have any worries about it.”
And there’s little doubt the players won’t listen, especially if they learn about what she went through when she was one of the smaller guards on the Turlock High girls basketball team.
In getting ready for a game, Serpa has to wear a thick strap around her shoulders to keep them from popping out of their sockets. The contraption also helps keep the pain of having gone through two surgeries to a minimum. But it hasn’t kept her from being the Bulldogs’ top rebounder.
With a rebounding average of at least seven per game, Serpa has surpassed the double-digit mark at least five times this season. Her career-high of 18 came against Pitman on Jan. 18. She’s doing this all while being just 5-foot-6, making up for her lack of height and size with her foot speed and natural athleticism.
“That girl has hops,” said a smiling Camille Roberts, who’s been Serpa’s teammate since their Sacred Heart School days. “I don’t know where it comes from.”
Even with all her abilities, Serpa said this is her last year of basketball, one that could end with four consecutive Central California Conference titles. And it’s not because she doesn’t have the talent, either.
“I don’t think they’ll last too much longer after high school,” Serpa said of her shoulders.
During the Bulldogs’ preseason meeting, coach Salinda Mabie asked her players if they had any interest in playing beyond high school. If so, she’d provide information about the recruiting process.
Serpa told her coach that she had no interest.
The coach understood.
“I have a friend who’s not even 40 and has had two shoulder surgeries,” Mabie said. “I see the impact the decision people make just to play sports and the long-term impact of it. I think she’s making a good decision. She only has one body.”
Because of her condition, Mabie has a watchful eye on Serpa. The coach said she used to cringe every time Serpa attacked the hoop during her sophomore season, as Mabie would find herself saying, “No! Don’t do that!”
Three years later, the coach has issued a couple of restrictions, including prohibiting Serpa from diving for loose balls. That way, her shoulders won’t pop out. When they do, it can be painful to watch, sometimes sidelining the four-year varsity player for an entire game.
Serpa didn’t play much her freshman season after enduring her second surgery because of a basketball injury. Her sophomore season, Mabie admits that the team was “in very protective mode — and she did not like that.”
But it all changed her junior season, when she became a 3-point threat and one of the team’s top rebounders who liked to crash the boards from the weak side. Not much has changed this year, as Serpa continues to be dangerous without the ball.
With only a few games left, the senior will go about the rest of the season just like how she approaches rebounding.
“You have to go all out,” she said, adding that she doesn’t like special treatment because of her bad shoulders. “You can’t really worry about what’s going to happen. There’s not very many games left. You have to play your heart out. Whatever happens, happens.”
Even when it’s all over, basketball might still be a part of Serpa’s life.
“Hopefully,” Mabie said, “I can get her back here and she can coach here. She’ll still be able to contribute to the game. It just won’t be in a playing role. I think that’s a lot of maturity, too, for a girl to say, ‘Hey, you know what? I know my body can’t do it anymore.’”
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.