By Tim Miller
Abby Wolford’s career didn’t end the way she wanted it to. She missed her final shot and didn’t score in the final quarter of a thrashing at the hands of Kentucky Wesleyan in a G-MAC semifinal a season ago.
Before that final game, Wolford had suffered and recovered from two ACL tears that ended two of her seasons before they started. She also battled through countless other knicks, bruises and even a concussion to close her career at Cedarville. Even so, she nearly eclipsed 1,000 points and landed just outside the top 10 on Cedarville’s all-time 3-point field goal percentage list — and did it in just three seasons.
Wolford walked out of Cedarville with esteem and respect for battling through a myriad of misfortune, while leading her team as a multi-year captain and garnering all G-MAC awards.
But she’s okie-doked all of us.
This season, Wolford will use her final year of eligibility to return to the Cedarville basketball team for her sixth year on campus.
Wolford’s return to use her fourth year of eligibility was dreamed up by her head coach, Kari Hoffman. Last winter, Hoffman casually mentioned the possibility as a joke, and Wolford kept it in the back of her mind for months.
“There’s always hints of truth to a joke,” Hoffman said. “She knew where I was going with that, but I didn’t think this was something she wanted to do.”
As spring came around, the thought morphed into a real option for Wolford. She spoke with Hoffman to explore the option further, and she decided to file the necessary paperwork with the NCAA just to see if she could be granted the year to play.
Wolford hadn’t decided if she would return to the team even if granted permission. In most cases, it takes several days if not weeks to hear back from the NCAA. For Wolford, it was less than 24 hours.
“Just being approved so quickly, I felt like I was just handed the opportunity, so I took it,” Wolford said.
The sixth-year senior also said the disappointing finish to her career left her wanting another chance.
“I’m ultracompetitive,” Wolford said. “I felt like there was still more in me and I wasn’t satisfied. I still had hunger for more competition and more to give.”
Hoffman said she was ecstatic when she found out she’d get Wolford for another season.
“It’s a coach’s dream to have her back. She’s everything you want in a player and more,” Hoffman said.
At this point, Wolford had to adjust to a brand new way of thinking. Even during her Senior Night, she knew in the back of her mind their was at least an iota of hope that her Senior Night wouldn’t be the last time she stepped on the court as a player.
Hoffman said talking Wolford through the mental implications of returning for another year was the most challenging aspect. The reaction from the team was a concern that could have blindsided players who were ready to move into a new identity of Cedarville basketball after losing three seniors who had contributed greatly since freshman year.
Hoffman said the chance to get Wolford for another year was one she couldn’t pass up, and that the team would recognize that as well once players filled into their adjusted roles with Wolford back.
“I knew that whatever happened, Abby’s the type of player you want on your team for as long as possible,” Hoffman said. “We were gonna do whatever it took.”
Wolford still needed to be a student. Because Wolford finished her undergrad with a degree in health and physical education, she needed to start a master’s program. Wolford is pursuing a MBA and is set to complete it in the summer of 2020.
Wolford expected to have more time pursuing her master’s degree because all her classes are online, but that hasn’t been the case. She had no formal business education so she fell behind in classes.
“I feel like it’s an exam week every week,” Wolford said.
However, rest assured, Wolford says as she’s gotten used to the coursework and feels much more comfortable.
The team, too, has gotten more comfortable with Wolford back on the roster. As preseason begins, Hoffman said the transition has been seamless and players realize how valuable it is to have Wolford return.
“She embodies what it means to be a Cedarville women’s basketball player,” Hoffman said. “I think a lot of people see that and see that she wants the best for the team. She’s not coming back for selfish reasons.”
Players are meshing easily just like any other year, says junior guard Ashlyn Huffman.
“I think everyone now is super excited,” Huffman said. “She completely changes our team with her abilities and leadership and I’m excited what this season will hold.”
Wolford’s perspective of gelling with the team is probably one you’d expect of a player who is up to six years older than some of her teammates. She joked that sometimes she’ll bring up a memory from the past and realize none of her teammates will have a clue what she’s saying.
“It’s interesting because I feel like I’ve learned so much, but I’m teammates with 18-year-olds,” Wolford said. “It’s just funny because I have such a different perspective. I can’t do anything but laugh about it.”
And as she naturally stays in a position of leadership this season, Hoffman is excited to see how Wolford handles her role. It’s not often that a team gets to learn from and lean on a player with so much experience on and off the court.
Rather than having a longer leash to speak her mind, Hoffman will have higher expectations of Wolford. She thinks Wolford should make fewer mistakes this year on and off the floor and that by now she should know how to handle leadership.
“She picks and chooses the right time to use that,” Hoffman said. “She enjoys watching other people step up and lead.”
Wolford doesn’t want to just lead on the court. She says she came back for more than basketball, and she wants to remember those reasons. She said she’s grateful for one last year and that she wants to impact those younger than her outside of basketball. She said now that she has a chance to fulfill desires she had years ago, she wants to take full advantage of it.
“When I was sitting out with two ACL injuries, I had to lay some dreams down,” Wolford said. “But now that God has given me that chance again, I’m so excited.”
Wolford should hit 1,000 career points within her first few games of the season. Last year, many around the G-MAC thought she got snubbed from a first-team all-conference selection. She made the second team. This season, Wolford doesn’t want to get caught up in any kind of a revenge tour.
“It would be amazing to get player of the year or all these accolades, but if I get stuck on that, I start feeling like a failure if I’m not scoring the amount of points I should,” Wolford said. “People have expectations for me, but I’m just trying to give it my all and see what happens.”
Hoffman said Wolford doesn’t need an extra year to leave her legacy. Fighting through two ACL recoveries while sticking by her teammates through all of it was more than enough to show her character, Hoffman said.
“Whatever this journey looks like, she’s already been more than I thought she would be as far as on the floor and where she has contributed as a leader and good example,” Hoffman said.
Tim Miller is a senior marketing major, editor-in-chief and sports editor for Cedars. He enjoys having a baby face, knowing too much about health insurance, and striving to perfect the optimal combination of Dwight Schrute and Ron Swanson.