Palmer Trinity’s Kyrah James, a 5-9 sophomore wing who has earned recruiting interest from universities such as Washington, Miami and South Florida, made a “Euro step” move — just like she had done numerous times before.
This time, though, on Dec. 10, she tried to twist her body toward the basket and took what her coach James Valle called “a bad angle.”
Trainers rushed on the court only to find James in tears and her knee immediately swollen.
“I just heard this loud scream, and everything stopped,” teammate Claire Hebb said. “It was scary.”
James had torn her ACL and was done for the season. Palmer beat Florida Christian that night, but the locker room felt like a “funeral home,” Valle said.
Following the game, the entire team went to the trainer’s office, where they tried to comfort James, who owns the school single-game scoring record with 33 points.
On a roll
On some teams, losing a player such as James, who was averaging 18.7 points, might have been the end of the story. But Palmer, a school with very little basketball tradition, has lost just once since James went down.
In fact, the Falcons (24-2) have won a school-record 13 games in a row and are set to play host to Marathon on Saturday in a district final playoff game.
A possible projection is a regional semifinal game against powerful Miami Country Day — a school that Palmer has never beaten and that ended the Falcons’ season last year.
Valle, now in his eighth season at Palmer, was just 23 years old when he took over the program.
The Falcons had never won a regional playoff game, something they have now accomplished twice — in 2010 and last season, both against Curley.
With James out, the team has slowed the pace, gone to the post more and switched from a trapping defense to a matchup zone that funnels opponents into 6-0 junior Samantha Waldman, who owns Palmer’s game, season and career records for blocks.
“She’s the best defender we’ve ever had,” Valle said of Waldman, who is getting recruiting interest from Rice, among others. “She’s long and runs the court well.”
Teammate Ilana Baiamonte, the daughter of Miami Heat announcer Michael Baiamonte, is an intense 5-7 junior who leads Palmer in rebounds.
Palmer also starts 5-2 junior Janelle Gonzalez at point guard, 5-11 senior Hallie Parten at power forward and 5-9 junior Claire Hebb at shooting guard.
Parten missed the first 10 games of the season due to a knee injury and, coincidentally, returned to action the night James got hurt.
Hebb, who is getting recruiting interest from Cornell and others, leads the team in scoring (19.2) and is the school’s single-season record-holder in points.
“When Claire walks in the gym, you don’t notice her because she’s not chiseled,” Valle said. “But then she starts spinning on people, and she gets oohs and aahs.”
Hebb and the rest of her teammates get plenty of support from James, who attends every game and roots for her teammates.
“Kyrah is already off her crutches, and doctors say she could return for summer ball in June,” Valle said. “She rehabs multiple times a week at 6 a.m. and it’s very intense. I think she will come back even stronger.
“In the meantime, she’s the best water girl in the city. She takes stats, and she’s very loud on the bench, encouraging our players.”