For love of the game: Austin duo worked hard to get back to the court

Published 9:27 pm Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Colie Justice and Elyse Hebrink have been close to basketball their whole lives, but they didn’t know how much they needed the sport until they didn’t have it.

Justice grew up watching her older siblings playing basketball and Hebrink practically grew up on the bench next to her mom Suzy, the former coach of the Riverland Community College women’s basketball team, but both Justice and Hebrink spent last year watching their favorite sport after they both sustained injuries that kept them out for the entire year.

Instead of making big plays for the Packers, both players were making trips to Rochester for physical rehabilitation. Through the hardship, the duo developed a bond and a mutual respect for each other as they worked their way back into playing shape.

Email newsletter signup

“It was really nice having each other. I know Elyse worked her butt off and so did I,” Justice said. “We both wanted to get back. It was a slow process. We both came to practice as much as we could and we both worked hard in physical therapy.”

Austin’s Colie Justice pulls up for a layup against Winona. Herald File Photo

Hebrink, a sophomore, and Justice, a junior, both saw significant playing time on varsity as middle schoolers so it was a shock for each of them to sit out right when they were starting to find their stride. Hebrink said it helped to have Justice in her corner.

“It’s always nice to have somebody else going through it with you. You don’t really know what it feels like until it happens to you,” Hebrink said. “I already had a great appreciation for basketball, but having to watch other people do what you love makes you realize how much you actually do appreciate it.”

The past summer saw Hebrink and Justice make big strides as they continued to work hard in the weight room and on the basketball court. Hebrink played for the Packer volleyball team this past fall and Justice ran for the Austin cross country team.

Hebrink said she learned to challenge herself in other ways when she wasn’t able to get on the court with her teammates.

“The most competitive thing for me was seeing my growth and physical therapy and seeing how long it really takes for everything to get back to normal,” Hebrink said.

Austin’s Elyse Hebrink defends against Red Wing’s Lindsay Reps. Herald File Photo

Austin head coach Eric Zoske said it’s nice to have two players in the lineup with such a strong basketball background. He doesn’t have to explain a lot of things to them and he’s never had to question their work ethic.

“They’ve really maxed out their dedication to themselves and to their school throughout this whole rehabilitation process,” Zoske said. “They’ve really done a good job. When this season started I was a little nervous for them, but now they’ve gone through so much stuff that it’s not even in my head anymore.”

This season has seen Justice emerge as a ball-handling three-point shooter for the Packers (9-4 overall, 8-3 Big Nine) and Hebrink has learned to play in the post and provide a lift on the boards.

Hebrink said the Packers have found a new sense of motivation after dropping two straight games to Red Wing and Northfield.

“I’m excited for the second half of the season,” Hebrink said. “Everyone’s finally starting to find their place. I think we have a perfect role for everyone on the team.”

Justice has learned to embrace every moment she steps on the court with a chance to compete.

“It means even more once it gets taken away. You have to cherish every moment,” Justice said. “One time you step on the court could be your last time. You never know.”

The Packers will host Albert Lea (3-13 overall, 2-10 Big Nine) in Packer Gym tonight at 7:15 p.m. and they will play at Winona at 7:15 p.m. Friday.