FORT WORTH, Texas — TCU was on quite a roll in coach Mark Campbell’s first season, off to a school-record 14-0 start and in the AP Top 25 poll.
Only a couple of weeks later, after injuries sidelined 20-point scorers Sedona Prince and Madison Conner, and veteran point guard Jaden Owens, the Horned Frogs were having to forfeit two games and hold open tryouts on campus just to fill some roster spots.
“It just shows how quickly a season can turn,” Campbell said after the Frogs played and won their first game in 10 days.
There were four new walk-on players on the roster from the more than 40 who attended tryouts, though only TCU volleyball player Sarah Sylvester appeared briefly in the 66-60 win over UCF.
“Just been decimated by the injury bug, you have open tryouts midyear, we haven’t played 5-on-5, and you show up and you get a Big 12 win,” Campbell said. “It’s been a special, hard two weeks.”
Prince, a 6-foot-7 graduate transfer from Oregon, broke the ring finger on her right hand in the opening seconds of TCU’s first game this calendar year, a matchup of undefeated Big 12 teams at Baylor. She still played the entire game, and finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds in the 71-50 loss on Jan. 3.
Owens, the Baylor transfer who was the Big 12’s active leader in assists, suffered a torn ACL and meniscus in her right knee in the first half at Houston on Jan. 13, the Frogs’ fourth consecutive loss. Conner, the junior guard who came to TCU from Arizona, then injured her MCL in practice after the team returned home and sophomore guard DaiJa Turner announced she had season-ending ankle surgery.
The Frogs were down to only six available scholarship players, with two of those on limited minutes coming off injuries, going into a scheduled home game against Top 10 team Kansas State. Though the Wildcats were already in Fort Worth to play, TCU forfeited that game and one at Iowa State. While those count as losses in the Big 12 standings, they aren’t reflected in TCU’s overall 15-4 record.
“It was the right decision to make, it was a hard decision to make,” TCU athletic director Jeremiah Donati said. “Not unprecedented. It’s unusual.”
UConn had a game against DePaul postponed last season when the Huskies were under the Big East Conference’s minimum of seven available scholarship student-athletes. Xavier didn’t have enough available players when it canceled a non-conference game at Arizona State last month, and Jacksonville last week had health and safety concerns in its program before its game against North Florida was rescheduled.
There is no minimum roster threshold in the Big 12, something Donati expects to be addressed by the conference. Under current rules, a Big 12 school unable to field a team forfeits if no extraordinary circumstances exist, instead of being able to reschedule games.
“I know these decisions aren’t easy, but it is impactful. I don’t know what we spent to travel down there, but it’s a significant amount of money. ... Then players missed opportunities. I hate injuries, you know everybody goes through them,” Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie said. “The Big 12’s got to take a hard look and get our input as coaches and figure out a way that these things don’t happen.”
Prince, Conner and Owens were the only TCU players averaging more than 30 minutes a game before they got hurt. Prince and Conner should both return before the end of the season.
For now, the lineup and the gameplan is much different for the Frogs.
“MC (Campbell) always says the journey of the season, like there’s going to be injuries, obviously probably not to this capacity usually,” said senior guard Agnes Emma-Nnopu, one of four TCU players on the floor for at least 34 minutes against UCF.
The Frogs scored the game’s last nine points, going ahead to stay when freshman guard Victoria Flores had a steal and breakaway layup with 1:18 left. She had been playing behind Owens while also overcoming having surgery twice to repair torn ACLs.
“I am just beyond proud of this group of kids,” Campbell said.
Sylvester, a 6-3 sophomore who was working out with the school’s volleyball team last week when she heard about the basketball tryouts, played only the final 1:08 of the third quarter. Two of the other added walk-ons played on state championship prep teams, and another is a freshman guard who had more than 1,500 points in high school while twice being a district player of the year in nearby Granbury, Texas.
“They’re suiting up because we need numbers,” Campbell said, soon after holding two fingers slightly apart from each other. “But they’re this far away from full tilt, get in there and let’s rock and roll.”