The 2020 Rollercoaster for Jenna O’Hea
While all the world is trying to make sense of 2020, Flyers captain Jenna O’Hea has more reasons than most to question what has happened in her world, in what has been so far, a real roller coaster year.
An Olympic year, 2020 was set to be an exciting one for Jenna, the captain of the Australian Opals, the number three ranked women’s basketball team in the world. The Olympic Qualifiers in France and then the Olympic Games in Tokyo, 2020 was set to be a very exciting year.
Adding to this was the WNBL season, and coming into the New Year the Flyers, in their inaugural season, were sitting top of the table (12-2), with a finals campaign on the horizon. A win to the start the New Year and the year was certainly looking great.
“I was feeling really good. We knew we had a good line-up and the team had come together quickly so the outlook was exciting as we started the New Year. The success of the Flyers and the involvement with the Opals certainly made for a year I was looking forward to,” said O’Hea reflecting back to the start of 2020.
It all changed on Sunday January 12 during the Flyers exciting OT victory over cross-town rival the Melbourne Boomers. While a collision during the third quarter injured her wrist, it did not stop O’Hea from playing out the game and playing well. However, scans the next day revealed that she had broken her wrist and required surgery. She was expected to be sidelined for up to 12-weeks which included the Olympic Qualifiers and the WNBL season.
“It was certainly not good news. I felt I was playing well, and we were playing some great basketball. Having just had a good win against our rivals so I was feeling positive about the Flyers. The injury certainly changed my mood, not just about our season in the WNBL, but of course the Olympic Qualifiers which were only two-weeks away.
“In one day, my basketball world had certainly turned upside down. Part of the top of the table team playing well and the next minute I was missing the Olympic Qualifiers in France and being uncertain about the rest of the WNBL season.
“Honestly it was devastating, the timing really stunk,” said O’Hea
The initial disappointment was replaced with a strong desire to return to the game as soon as possible Following the surgery O’Hea was advised she would be out of action for between six and 12 weeks. O’Hea was determined it would be closer to six than 12.
“I was still able to run to maintain my fitness and the injury was to my left hand so I was still able to shoot around so I set myself a goal of being back as soon as possible, hopefully to be part of our WNBL campaign. It was all about rehab and ensuring I did the one percenters to give myself every chance to get back.”
On February 24, a bone density scan paved the way for the comeback. While the bone density was just over 50%, it was enough to resume playing and she was given the all-clear to play in the Grand Final series commencing the following Sunday, March 1.
The excitement to start the year, the disappointment due to injury and now the excitement of preparing for the WNBL Grand Final series against Canberra. O’Hea’s roller coaster ride in 2020 was just beginning.
“I remember being so happy with the news and it was then about getting some serious training with the team and to be honest I had a shocking week of practice and as the week went by I started to question if I was right to play,” O’Hea admitted.
Flyers teammate Keira Rowe provided O’Hea with some much-needed additional practice with a one-on-one session after a team training session during the week and this made a real difference to O’Hea’s confidence in the lead up to her return.
With the captain back on the team, the question of whether she would be in the starting five had to be made and both O’Hea and coach Cheryl Chambers agreed starting on the bench was best for the team.
“Aimie Clydesdale had replaced me in the team and she had just come off her best game (an 18-point performance in the semi-final victory in Adelaide) so we thought it was best for her to start the game,” O’Hea said.
The roller coaster continued for O’Hea as the excitement of a return to the court and playing in a Grand Final series was replaced with the disappointment of two narrow defeats. Naturally this was a huge disappointment, not just for O’Hea, but for the Flyers who had been the best team throughout the season but were unable to win the WNBL Championship.
While the disappointment was there, O’Hea only had five days off following the final game in Canberra as the Olympic preparations commenced.
“Having missed the Olympic Games in 2016, Tokyo was massive for me. It felt different and I was looking forward to the Olympics. We (with other Opals living in Melbourne) commenced our training program to get ready for our Olympic training camp, this continued for a short time until the stadiums and gyms were closed due to the coronavirus.
“Even when the Camp was cancelled, we continued fitness testing with a maximum of 3 of us at the one time, in line with the regulations. “
The Opals players were kept up to date with the latest on the Olympic Games with regular emails from Basketball Australia and Australian Institute of Sport, culminating in the news the Games would be re-scheduled.
While obviously disappointed the Olympic Games will not be going ahead this year, O’Hea knows there was no option and admits it was a relief when they were postponed until 2021.
“It never really crossed my mind the Olympics would be cancelled; such was my focus on the Games. I just wanted them to go ahead. In the end there was no option, this was not about the safety of the athletes and officials involved, this decision was about the best thing for the world community.
“The Games being postponed was a relief, it means we will still get to compete in the Olympic Games in Tokyo,” O’Hea said.
Thankfully, the roller coaster ride for O’Hea in the first three months of the year didn’t finish with the disappointment of the Olympic Game postponement. The announcement that the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup will be held in Sydney during September and October in two years’ time.
As the host nation Australia automatically qualifies for the World Cup.
“The World Cup in Australia is so exciting, it will be incredible, not just for the players but for basketball. I played in the World Cup in Spain and we played the host nation in the semi-final, it was amazing. A packed stadium, all cheering against us made for an incredible atmosphere. I can’t wait until we play in front of a packed house with everyone actually cheering for us.”
So how does O’Hea feel after such a roller coaster ride in the first four months of 2020.
“2020 has certainly been a mix of emotions for me in terms of my basketball, however it is important to keep it in perspective and remember how lucky I really am. And now with the changes to our lives due to the coronavirus crisis, we all appreciate so many of the things we may have taken for granted.
“We are all living through a time that has not been experienced before, we are all in this together so maybe it is just another part of the 2020 roller coaster. It is a reminder to be thankful for the opportunities that we have and to make the most of them.”
For now, O’Hea is like the rest of the basketball family, waiting for the world to be safe again so she can get back on court and return to competition when it is safe to do so.