MELISSA — It wasn’t supposed to be this way.


Katie Webb, a junior guard for Southeastern Oklahoma State’s Savage Storm basketball team, was leading the Great American Conference in scoring last season and on a fast track to win GAC Player of the Year. The only player in the league with a Top 5 ranking in both scoring and rebounding — and a top performer in a slew of other categories.


After a stellar career at Melissa High School, she was hitting her stride at SOSU after a season-ending foot injury the year before. The Savage Storm was rolling too, entering their home contest with Oklahoma Baptist on Feb. 7 with a 9-5 conference mark, second-best in the league.


But that’s when things went sideways, as they say.


Late in the second quarter, Webb had already logged 14 points, three rebounds and an assist.


“I’d had a pretty good first half,” she said recently. “I was driving down the left side of the lane with a jump-stop to pull up for a jump shot. I got nudged on my right side and planted, and my knee went out. I fell down and I didn’t really think anything of it. I’d never felt that before. It felt like my knee cap went out of place.”


There was no real pain, she said, but she was unable to get up.


“It was one of those sinking feelings,” Savage Storm head coach Darin Grover said. “You thought, ‘As tough as Katie is, that’s probably not good.’ She didn’t just spring back up.”


Soon she was in the training room where it wasn’t immediately clear what had happened. Webb’s father, Claude Webb, who’d coached her from fifth grade through high school and witnessed the injury with her mom Susie, followed her into the training room.


Katie Webb wanted to go back in the game and tried to walk it off.


“But I couldn’t do anything,” she said. “I had to just put ice on it and go sit on the bench. When I came back out from the locker room after halftime, I looked up there (in the stands) and my mom was crying. She saw me hurt. My dad, you could tell he had a knot in his stomach. After the game he told me, ‘Right when you planted, I knew you were done.’”


Claude Webb said he’s seen it happen before.


“I know it crushed Katie,” he said. “I didn’t sleep for several nights and she didn’t either. I think I was more depressed than she was — just for her, because it’s your kid. She never complained, never whined, never looked back.”


Confirmation


After the game, Katie Webb and her parents went to dinner then home.


“We were trying not to talk about it that first night,” she said. “Then we just tried to stay positive until we found out what it actually was.”


Katie Webb said she recalls her dad telling her, “You can do anything. You got through it once.”


“He mainly left it up to me,” Katie Webb said. “I mean, he has coached me for 15 years. By this point we know each other so well. Nothing needed to be said that I didn’t already say to myself. But he tried to be really encouraging.”


An MRI days later confirmed a torn ACL, ending a second-straight season for Katie Webb. The year before, during practice at Arkansas-Monticello before the ninth game of the season, she suffered a torn ligament in the arch of her right foot. The NCAA ultimately granted a medical hardship for that season, effectively allowing another junior year of eligibility.


Before this year’s injury with seven games left in the regular season, Katie Webb had been averaging 20.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, and shooting 52.5 percent from the field with 33 steals and 11 blocked shots.


“It was really hard,” she said of learning the MRI results. “But I just tried to tell myself, ‘It happened. I can’t change it. I have to be positive moving forward. It’s not going to help anybody if I’m negative about it.’”


The Savage Storm fell to OBU at the buzzer the night of Katie Webb’s knee injury and dropped their next three contests to finish 3-5 the rest of the way, including a first-round loss in the GAC tournament.


“When we lost her,” Grover said, “it’s one of those things where you just know it’s going to be really difficult to fill all the things that she does. And that proved to be true. She is our team leader, our best player. She does it on the offensive end; does it on the defensive end. For women’s basketball, she’s unique in that she shoots a true jumper, especially from the mid-range. She penetrates in and gets in the middle of the paint, then elevates over people, which is really difficult for people to stop.”


‘Hands down’ praise


At Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma, this year, the first game after her knee injury, Katie Webb received a nice compliment from SNU’s head coach, who said she would’ve been Player of the Year in the Great American Conference — “hands down.”


“It’s nice to hear coaches say that and to know that, yeah, I had a chance,” Katie Webb said. “That was one of the hardest parts for me because my dad taught me that awards don’t matter. I’ve never cared about how many points I had. I don’t care about any of that, I just want to win. And it felt like, for once, I took pride in the fact that I was one of the top players in the conference. And I wanted to be that. So to get hurt at that point, that was the hardest pill for me to swallow.”


At season’s end, Katie Webb still made First-Team All-GAC — and also earned the squad’s first spot on an All-Region team in a decade.


“We’re talking about the toughest region in the country, in my opinion,” Grover said. “If you’re one of the best players in this region, you’re one of the best players in the country.”


Katie Webb was also named a 2019 Google Cloud Academic All-American, the first SOSU women’s basketball player to earn Academic All-American honors since the school joined NCAA Division II in 1995. She is currently working on her MBA after majoring in marketing as an undergraduate.


District sweeps


Melissa fans will certainly recall Katie Webb’s tenure at point guard for the Lady Cards. During that stretch, she led the team to four-straight seasons without a district loss, earning three District MVP honors and an All-State pick along the way. Katie Webb averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds per game over her MHS career as she and longtime teammates Keonni Conkle, Megan Conlin, Cat Whitten and others kept the Bird Cage hopping.


Claude Webb not only coached Katie since fifth grade, but that whole group of girls who went on to play varsity ball.


“I think that really helped lead to success of the program,” Katie Webb said. “He instilled the culture that you’ve got to stick together and you’ve got to stick with it – and you’ll win.”


“It was fun coaching all of them,” Claude Webb said. “It was fun coaching Katie. She was the kind of kid that made it easy for her dad to coach her because she wasn’t selfish. She was a team player. The other players respected her. … They actually went through junior high too and never lost a game. They were a steamroller, but it was a team effort.


“Katie was really good in everything. She could’ve been just as good a volleyball player. She could’ve been just as good at track. She was a good hurdler. But she just loved playing basketball. … Not only did she love basketball but she was a big influence on her friends.”


Over the years, he and his daughter have logged countless road miles traveling to AAU tournaments and other games across the country.


“I can clearly remember I-10 through the swamps of Louisiana, heading for New Orleans,” Claude Webb said, “just the two of us in the car for a week, two weeks. Then leaving there and going to Nashville. … She and I, we are really, really close.”


That car time, he added, occasionally involved some “Coach Webb” sessions as well.


“Most of the time it was really good,” Claude Webb said, “but if I didn’t feel like she played like she should or as hard as she could, we had a visit about it and there were tears occasionally.”


Plusses for the test


Among the blessings that will no doubt help Katie Webb as she strives to recover once more are: her determination, her athleticism, her background and her family.


Claude and Susie, married 36 years, have six kids — all athletes — and Katie is the youngest. Their three other daughters, Emily, Caroline and Jessica, played for a TAPPS basketball state champion in 2007 — Texoma Christian School in Sherman — and appeared in the state finals three years in a row. Claude was girls head basketball coach and athletic director at TCS at the time.


Sons Hondo and Jackson were accomplished athletes at Melissa. Both played for the Cards’ state semifinalist basketball team in 2011 and Hondo was the Class 2A Player of the Year. Jackson was also an All-State football player and a key member Melissa’s 2011 state championship team.


Katie observed those accomplishments — and the work it took — during her elementary school years.


“There was always a ball, somewhere,” Claude Webb said. “They were always competing, she and her older siblings. … As a dad, I never pushed any of them toward it. It was just natural.”


Katie, who’s had a couple of broken arms herself, also watched her brothers overcome adversity. Hondo has Type I diabetes, diagnosed at age 8. Jackson, the year after making All-State, broke his back and wore a brace for several months — then played the next season with a shoulder injury and led the district in receiving.


“She’s seen — not that it doesn’t hurt — but there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Claude Webb said. “You can’t just give up.”


He added that Katie’s siblings never babied her.


“I think they blocked every shot she took till she was like 15,” he said.


Comeback on-track


Katie Webb travels to Durant, Oklahoma, daily to perform her rehab work at SOSU.


“I see her working hard constantly,” Grover said. “She looks like she could run out there and play right now. But we don’t want to push it too hard. We want to make sure she comes back on her own time. Whenever she does come back, she’ll make a huge impact. I don’t have any doubt in my mind that she’s going to come back just as strong as she was before. In fact, we’re counting on it.”


For now, things look encouraging for a full recovery and Katie Webb’s return to the court for her senior year. At her last check-up, Claude Webb said, the doctor was impressed with her progress. And shooting practice with dad has resumed as well.


“She’s a good athlete,” Claude Webb said. “She’s smart, she’s skilled — but she works so hard. … Kids who look up to Katie, I want them to know — it doesn’t just happen. They have to work — and hard work pays off.”


While none of it is easy, Katie Webb said she’s grown to a new understanding of her back-to-back setbacks.


“It’s made me have to work harder and change my way of thinking,” she said. “That’s real life. It’s made me have to be more of a coach than a player at times. It’s definitely not the path I wanted to go down but I feel like I can’t really imagine it any other way, now that it’s happened. I definitely have anxiety about [coming back], as I’m doing rehab and we add new stuff. Yesterday they wanted me to jump forward and land on two feet. I just looked at them. ‘Are you sure?’ … My dad and I talked about that. I use those feelings to drive me. It’s good to be nervous at times. It’s good to fear failure. It scares me to have those feelings, to be that nervous, but it’s also pushing me forward.”