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South Elgin's Savanah Uveges (4) advances past Streamwood's Deja Moore (23) during the first quarter at South Elgin High School in South Elgin, Ill., on Friday, February 17, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media |

South Elgin’s Savanah Uveges has come a long way in a short time.

With her basketball team now in the Streamwood regional finals, only the right knee brace serves as an outward reminder that the junior guard has very rapidly recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that required surgery July 27.

“I feel like myself again — but not exactly on the court because obviously I can’t come back and be myself again after being out for five months,” she said.

Uveges has been herself enough that she was able to make the All-Upstate Eight Conference River team after only six conference games played following her return Jan. 10. Coaches who decided certainly took into account that the Storm went 4-2 with her in conference play and 2-4 before her return.

The basketball/soccer star isn’t a big-time scorer who puts up 20 or 25 points to carry a team like former Storm teammate Rebecca Smith, but makes everyone else better with her passing, hustle, rebounding and a long reach at the top of the press.

“She just seems to take over a lot of games in the fourth quarter that we’ve won,” said coach Tim Prendergast. “She is incredibly athletic and a really good basketball player.”

Rapid comeback

Five months-plus isn’t much time to come back from a serious knee injury. The rapid comeback was one some might question for safety’s sake, but when Prendergast saw her running with the team when practice started, he thought some sort of comeback this year could occur.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “She was out there practicing with us Day 1. She played against Burlington Central (Jan. 10) but was running and practicing long before that. Of course her ability to cut limited her early but she’s become much better at that. And she’s wearing the brace, which helps.”

The anterior cruciate ligament is always a concern with female athletes. According to the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, female athletes are three times more likely than males to suffer torn ACLs. The Journal study cites the greater angle at which the femur meets the tibia as a reason, leading to greater pull on the knee muscles.

In the 1970s and earlier, knee surgeries almost meant retirement for athletes.

Football players like Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus never fully recovered after knee surgeries.

That’s no longer the case, as Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson showed this past NFL season.

Close monitoring

Still, with better techniques, Uveges’ father, John, a soccer coach and the Storm’s girls assistant basketball coach, called a comeback at such a rapid pace one that had to be closely monitored. Part of this was because of her playing and training style. Simply, she doesn’t have a level below 100 percent.

“You kind of think she can do a lot of things, with her mentality, but you wonder is she going to push it too hard?” he said. “You don’t know about the ACL.

“With her, it’s like a horse that wants to run. You’ve got to pull the reins back, and with her you can’t do that. She just wants to go.”

But Uveges’ orthopedic physician saw the rapid progress and she kept pushing harder with positive results.

“I really just kind of put a lot of pressure on myself to do a lot of rehab,” Uveges said. “It was like rehab really just became like my new sport. If I wasn’t in the gym shooting baskets, I was rehabbing.

“My doctor told me all along I was doing fine.”

All-out playing style

When Uveges returned in a 44-41 win over Burlington Central, she said her father was a bit jumpy on the bench watching her.

Just a few minutes into her playing stint, she dove head first on the floor for a loose ball in the open court and got up afterward without a problem.

“I’m thinking ball, ball, ball, ball all the time,” she said of her tendency to dive all over the floor.

If there had been any doubt, it was answered then. She was back.

“I think she’s getting there,” John Uveges said. “She’s trying to get her confidence. She’s having a hard time getting into the lane right now and thinking about pump-fake or going up, but I think it will come.”

As long as the Storm keeps winning, she’ll keep getting the chance to improve this season.

Beyond the Storm’s season, there are still Division I schools interested in Uveges for basketball and soccer. Whether or not she plays high school soccer this spring is still up in the air — that sport presents its own unique set of challenges for someone back so fast from knee surgery.

After her comeback game, Uveges kidded that she made it back quicker than the Bulls’ Derrick Rose.

She added, “Then again, he’s worth like $40 million. I can see why he’s taking his time.”

To a high school athlete, though, time is a precious commodity. Careers and chances to make memories don’t last long.

And while it has often been said that where you are going is more important than how fast you are going, Uveges has shown with this comeback that both were pretty important to her.

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