My MS isn’t a death sentence; it’s just a part of who I am now and it will make me a stronger person because I truly understand pain. I’m still young and plan on making the best out of every situation life has to throw at me.
— Antoniette “Andy” Audiss, Marana senior basketball player
Andy could feel numbness in her hands and “couldn’t think straight,” said her mom Suzette Audiss, while she prepared for the start of her summer club basketball season at Phoenix last April 5.
“The basketball slipped through my fingers as though I had forgotten how to catch a ball,” Andy explained in an essay for her writing class at Marana at the end of last school year.
” At that exact moment, I knew there was something wrong.”
On Dec. 28 at the Flowing Wells Holiday Shootout, while Bella Muscoreil made a maneuver to the basket that she has done countless times in her young career, the post player landed awkwardly and heard a snap. She fell to the ground writhing in pain, her cries overcoming the silence of the concerned crowd in the gym.
“When it first happened, I landed on it and it snapped and I was like, ‘Oh, that didn’t feel right,'” Bella said. “So then I tried to walk again and I was like, ‘No, I’m not going to walk.’ I sat down and it was immediate throbbing and then it was swollen and turned purple and it wasn’t good.”
Banner Medical personnel on site feared Bella suffered a fracture of her ankle and that her productive career at Marana was over.
X-rays at the emergency room did not reveal a break although she tore small ligaments, she said. The doctors deemed the injury to be a high ankle sprain, and she was forced to wear a boot and wait to see if she could play again for the Tigers.
Andy, with the numbness in her hands continuing, took a series of tests over almost a two-week period last April until a neurologist determined that Andy became stricken with multiple sclerosis.
“We all were in shock,” Suzette said. “She was somewhat in denial of what was going on but scared she’d never be able to play basketball. The drugs (prescribed to her) are to help stop progression of the disease that attacks the central nervous system. There isn’t a cure. They don’t know what causes it.”
Andy first believed it was a “misdiagnosis” and she went “mentally numb,” asking “Why me?”
“All the questions stacking up in my head started slowly making me sick,” she said. “I needed answers.”
This was not the way longtime friends and teammates Andy Audiss and Bella Muscoreil envisioned their last season of basketball together at Marana. Their long journey in basketball included the summers of their high school years with the Tucson Rattlers club team.
As freshmen playing on the Marana junior varsity team together they went 18-0 under their current varsity coach, Tory Perez. All of their hard work, the many hours in the gyms in Tucson, Phoenix and parts of the nation with the Rattlers, pointed toward a successful end of their careers at Marana.
Although they became inflicted with severe medical obstacles in the last year, their success is still taking shape, more so in the form of pride knowing they persevered through their challenges to be together on the court tonight for Senior Night at Marana when the Tigers host Cienega at 7.
Bella is making her return for the first time since the Dec. 28 injury. She will play sporadically with limited minutes to allow for her injury to continue to conform to the rigors of the court.
“It’s been a long wait, definitely, and the rehab I’ve been going through, it’s been preparing me to get back on the court,” said Bella, whose ankle will be taped for reinforcement. “Recently, I’ve been taking extra steps just to see my movement, make sure I’m OK.
“My trainer said (she’s at) 90 percent. She doesn’t want me to push myself to put more weight on a different foot or ligament to hurt that.”
Marana’s record of 11-13 with a losing streak of six games is minuscule to the human element that will take place at the Tigers’ gym tonight.
One of the top post players in the state, @BellaJoanM of @maranagirlsbbal, talks about being able to return to play on Senior Night on Thursday when it seemed about 5 weeks ago she would be lost for the season with an ankle injury. Bound for @DixieStateWBB. pic.twitter.com/leR2tqNTBP
Not only will the Tigers become as one with Bella back, but Andy will celebrate with her family, Bella, teammates and friends the fruits of her labor, working through the numbness in her hands to continue her basketball pursuits. She made it to Senior Night when only 10 months ago she could have crumbled from the weight of suffering from MS.
Instead, the combo guard, who can handle the ball and shoot from the perimeter, has trained to try to master playing basketball without feeling in her hands through muscle memory in addition to her normal basketball regimen. All the while, she has maintained her high academic status at Marana.
“It’s definitely been rough because you can’t see it … you can’t notice it, having a physical disability,” Andy told me Tuesday night after leading the Tigers with 19 points, including three 3-pointers, in a 51-31 loss to Buena.
“You have to play through it. You’ll hear comments from the stands. I’ve heard, ‘She can’t carry her own any more.’ I have to take that into account and be like, ‘OK, I can just push through.’ They just don’t know but it’s OK.”
.@maranagirlsbbal standout senior @mhs_hooper diagnosed a few months ago with Multiple Sclerosis, which has caused her to lose feeling in both hands. She continues to work hard toward college career with @erau_wbb. Tonight, she had 19 points with three 3-pointers. Inspirational. pic.twitter.com/zVMGBFF5m8
Andy’s support system includes her future coach at Embry- Riddle, Michael Trujillo, who immediately assured Andy and her family that he continues to want her on his team despite the MS diagnosis. Embry-Riddle has a trainer who has worked with an athlete stricken with MS, Suzette said.
Other support has come from local trainer Mike Lopez (the mentor of former Tucson High School standout Christine Clark). He worked individually with Andy. Perez spent additional time with her last June when Marana played in the city summer league.
“She was able to gain confidence to continue playing and was ready for club ball at the end of July and played with Rattlers in California,” Suzette said. “The entire Rattlers program were all supportive and did not treat her any different which was what made it all work.”
Rattlers director Chris Klassen, who coached Andy in that program at the outset of her career, and the team’s coach last summer — Pima’s Todd Holthaus — became significant pillars of strength for Andy in her quest to work through her disability.
“Basically, she’s had the support from all the coaches and other mentors that have believed in her,” Suzette said. “Her hard work, tenacity and determination has not let this change her world more than it has to. I work in social work so my case manager skills mentality kicked in. It was all about what she can do and overcoming what she cannot.
“Her daily life can be moody, fatigued. She has to get her sleep or she cannot function and symptoms flare up. She’s learned what to avoid and has good study habits. She is not interested in hanging out at parties. She works out, goes shopping, spends a lot of time with a basketball in her hand and researches for her career, playing at the next level. We are so blessed to have all that we have. Every minute with her is a blessing.”
Bella, also an exemplary student, will carry on her basketball career at Dixie State. Her time with Andy and her Marana teammates is drawing to a close. The thought of that and working through her serious injury toward the opportunity to play again with the Tigers should make Senior Night more emotional.
“That’s super exciting,” Bella said of Senior Night. “We weren’t sure when I first injured it if I was ever going to play for the rest of the season. … I never thought when I was a freshman that I was going to go to college to play basketball. I just felt I wasn’t capable.
“That’s when I decided I would push myself more. Starting my freshman year joining the Rattlers it was just that step that I needed to just push myself and see what I was capable of.”
Included in Andy’s essay for her writing class was this passage: “The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success.”
“I never knew how strong I was until being strong is all I could do.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.