SHERIDAN — Upon taking the job as the Sheridan College women’s basketball head coach, Ryan Davis needed a player to usher in the new era of Lady Generals basketball.
He wanted a gritty and skilled player with an unrelenting motor.
He found that in Aloma Solovi. Where some coaches and colleges saw multiple knee injuries as a red flag or a misplaced softball athlete, Davis saw the culture and backbone of his newly acquired program.
Solovi has validated Davis’ vision.
“I told her, ‘You’re the first kid. You’re the culture kid. You’re going to help build it and turn it around,’” Davis said.
The Lady Generals logged 10 non-conference victories this season and are well on their way to surpassing last season’s 15-win mark. A great deal of that credit goes to Solovi, who has had quite the eventful athletic career.
Solovi had an NCAA Division I offer on the table. She could have moved straight from high school to the highest level of collegiate competition. Solovi could have taken her softball talents to Utah State and dazzled on the diamond for the Lady Aggies.
But that isn’t what Solovi wanted.
While she played softball for years, pouring countless hours of work into improving her craft, it couldn’t fulfill her dream of playing college basketball.
But the recruiting waters weren’t as warm on the basketball front. Solovi wasn’t as sought after for her shooting and dribbling like she was for her hitting and fielding.
Another attribute that kept basketball coaches wary of pulling the trigger was the fact that Solovi had suffered multiple knee injuries in her high school playing days — three to be exact. Some athletes never return to what they once were after just one torn anterior cruciate ligament, and Solovi’s endured three separate knee injuries and has persevered each and every time.
Each knee injury makes it more likely that another will follow, and the thought of simply hanging up the shoes lingered.
“Honestly, that thought came to me a lot,” Solovi said. “Just to not play because my knees are so weak, and it gives me a higher chance to get hurt if I move forward. But to be honest, I wasn’t scared of it. I still wanted to pursue.”
Solovi’s first ACL injury happened during her sophomore season of high school basketball. Her left knee collided with another player’s knee and both players sustained torn ligaments in the process.
This marked Solovi’s first major injury in her lifetime, and she didn’t cross all her Ts in the recovery process. The injury proved difficult mentally, so much so that she rushed back to game action when she wasn’t ready.
About four months after sustaining the injury, Solovi returned to the floor and the repercussions were sizable.
“I wasn’t cleared to make full-on contact, but the coach wanted to see me play, and he didn’t know I was hurt,” Solovi said. “I just went in to play, and it wasn’t ready. I wasn’t strong enough, and it just went out on its own when I went in for a regular layup.”
Some lessons are harder learned than others, and this time around Solovi allotted more than enough time for her knee to heal. Solovi was able to participate at the end of her junior season and began to garner looks from college coaches after a strong summer and an even better start to her senior season.
Then the unthinkable happened, and Solovi knew it as soon as it took place. During a senior season game, an opposing player collided with Solovi, and her right knee — one that hadn’t experienced any problems — sustained significant damage.
“I had tore more things this time,” Solovi said. “When I tried to get up and walk on it, my knee was so jello that I couldn’t walk on it at all.”
She tore both sides of her meniscus, her ACL and portions of her posterior cruciate ligament. Basketball recruiting, which had heated up with Solovi’s play as a senior, now cooled on some fronts.
But not for Davis.
“Where a lot of teams may have backed off, I didn’t,” Davis said. “For me, it was more so our conversations were wonderful. It’s probably the best conversations I’ve had with a recruit. You could feel on the other side of the phone the kid really, really had a passion for basketball and was tough and committed to playing basketball.”
It has worked out for both Solovi and the Lady Generals. Solovi, sporting a hefty knee brace, averaged 7.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game in her freshman campaign.
This season — after shedding the knee brace — has seen Solovi’s production increase to 8.5 points, 3.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds per contest in more than double the minutes played. While some of those improvements may seem small statistically, Davis said Solovi’s biggest improvement has transpired on the defensive end.
“She’s able to use her athleticism where last year she couldn’t,” Davis said. “She didn’t have explosiveness. She couldn’t keep people in front of her. It helps her on the offensive end, but it’s a bigger deal defensively.”
Sheridan College has given Solovi the opportunity to play a significant role on a team, trying to find solid footing for years to come. It has also given Solovi a chance to spread her wings as an individual.
“I wanted to make changes somewhere else,” Solovi said. “… I wanted to move somewhere else and make changes and go out and represent my coach and my family and where I’m from, and do something that not a lot back home would do.”
Solovi has done just that, and her book still has chapters left to write. Solovi is receiving looks from NCAA Division I schools — something that’s not foreign to her, only this time it’s in basketball.
Her career hasn’t always proven smooth or streamlined. The hardships have come and been tackled, leaving Solovi with a greater appreciation for what she has.
“I think [the knee injuries] have been the biggest blessing in disguise,” Solovi said. “It has made me mentally stronger. … It motivates and tells me why I need to continue to go hard because I never know when it’s going to stop.”
The scars are a reminder. They tell a story about a player that has overcome more than most can fathom. They tell the story of Aloma Solovi — the Lady General who has persevered to lead Sheridan College.