On a recent afternoon, students rushed to class as Lady Jags president Brittany Bennett handed out flyers for Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s first women’s basketball team at the Jaguar Involvement Fair.
Bennett is a part of the basketball team’s genesis, which launched fall 2017. She helped lead the Lady Jags to playoffs in the Texas Collegiate Club Sports League, and swept the entire South Texas Jamboree tournament winning 5-0. While the team’s success shocked many Texas A&M-San Antonio staff members, students and opponents, the biggest surprise was Bennett’s ability to play.
Bennett began experiencing extreme back pain in 2012 during her junior year of high school. Thinking the soreness was related to her active basketball season, Bennett continued on until her senior year when the discomfort rapidly increased.
Restricted by pain, Bennett described how she could hardly sit up straight or walk around on her own, making her last year of high school all the more challenging. Eager to find relief, Bennett visited numerous doctors, each of whom offered a different diagnosis.
“The first diagnosis was a birth defect in my spine. Then the second was ovarian cysts,” Bennett recalls. “For the third diagnosis I went to a specialist in Houston and they ended up telling me I had a herniated disk that was causing excessive nerve damage to my lower spine.”
Doctors could not pinpoint the cause of the herniation, but they could agree on one thing: Bennett would need spinal cord surgery if she wanted to improve her standard of living. Tired of the inability to fully participate in her own life, Bennett started weighing the options of a microdiscectomy.
The intensive surgery alleviates pressure from the patient’s back by allowing surgeons to remove a portion of the herniated disk. Usually this type of surgery is performed on patients over 50 years old; Bennett was just 20 at the time.
While her youth was a major advantage in the recovery process, the surgery still accompanied a great risk.
“It’s a 50/50 shot of you being able to be active and get better, or another shot of you getting disabled,” Bennett explained.
Aware of the risk, she decided to go through with surgery only to face a new battle, recovering.
“The first couple weeks it was horrible pain. I couldn’t do anything for myself. I couldn’t walk, I had to get assistance to lay in bed… taking a bath. It was pretty much back to being a toddler,” Bennett said.
Typical recovery time for a microdiscectomy is about five years, but after only a year Bennett re-taught herself to move properly. Bennett said her functionality is not where it used to be, but the surgery allowed her to regain some of her mobility and live a fuller life.
However, doctors told Bennet to give up her love of playing basketball given the aggressive nature of the sport. One wrong hit or hard fall could result in loss of feeling in her legs completely.
Bennett feared the possibilities and kept off the court, limiting herself to low impact exercises her back could handle.
After three years of not daring to touch a basketball, Bennett started school at Texas A&M-San Antonio in the fall of 2017 where she stumbled across a flyer for the women’s basketball team. Driven by hope, Bennett thought she would take another shot at her love for the game.
“I just went in there [tryouts] and was playing around, and I was still doing good! Almost at the level that I used to be… and I was like ‘Hey, I think I can do this,’” Bennett exclaimed.
Thinking turned into doing, and Bennett suited up on the court for the first time in four years. Not only was Bennett playing again, she continuously made contributions to the scoreboard, helping the Lady Jags run a very successful first semester.
Bennett continues to contribute to the team on and off the court, taking leadership into her own hands and serving as the club president. The team is currently recruiting women interested in joining the team as they prepare for the upcoming season.
The season will kick off Oct. 10 as the team battles Palo Alto’s Palominos in the Texas Collegiate Club Sports League. Bennett asks students and staff to come out and show their support this year; that is the one thing she wished the team had more of last season.
While the team had few fans in the stands last season, the Lady Jags’ presence on campus has increased tremendously, giving students another opportunity to share their jaguar spirit.
Marissa Lyssy, president of Texas A&M-San Antonio’s Student Government Association, believes school spirit soars with each new freshman class. Lyssy also hears a lot of feedback from students, the most common being a longing for sports on campus.
“A lot of students are advocating for sports because they feel that is the place to show all this school spirit,” Lyssy explains.
While Texas A&M-San Antonio makes effort to establish traditions that will empower students, little can compare to the excitement of jaguars winning games and beating other universities who underestimate the school’s audaciousness.
Not only will sports boost spirit, but games give students a place to bond as well.
Communication senior Romina Fears said opportunities in recreational sports bring students together.
“More people can interact that way because I know a lot of people just come here, go to school and go home. That’s it,” she said.
The Lady Jags help create an environment for people to be more social and bond over the thrill of rooting on an Texas A&M-San Antonio team.
Students yearned for sports and the Lady Jags answered the call. Now Bennett and the team ask for support on the court and in the bleachers this upcoming season.
“Every game day we never had fans, so I want to put it all over the school so that way we can get school support. I feel like that is a big factor, actually having people cheering us on besides our families, wearing our colors, that would probably have the biggest impact on us,” Bennett explained.