Dahlman, Daninger back on court after lost year

Injuries can be one of the most excruciating things about sports, especially for student-athletes who just want a chance to prove themselves at the collegiate level. DePaul guards Rebekah Dahlman and Jolene Daninger have both lived through that story and are making a comeback this season after being sidelined with injuries all of last year.

Dahlman, a five-foot-nine-inch sixth-year senior, played 17 minutes in last year’s season opener against Northern Colorado before sustaining a broken left hand. She recorded just two baskets and a pair of rebounds before suffering the injury. Five days later, Dahlman had surgery to repair her hand.

Injuries have followed Dahlman throughout her college basketball career beginning at Vanderbilt in 2013. After missing the final 22 games as a freshman because of a blood clot that required numerous medical procedures, Dahlman took a redshirt. Dahlman came back the next season and was named to the SEC’s All-Freshman Team after averaging over 10 points per game in 29 starts as a redshirt freshman. She came back the following season and also played in 31 games.

It was Dahlman’s redshirt junior season, however, when the injuries returned. From a sprained ankle to a hamstring injury and a concussion, Dahlman’s game averages slightly fell. She transferred to DePaul in 2017.

“To be honest, my whole career had been some type of adversity or injuries, so I’ve dealt with adversity and injuries very well, but obviously I’ve bounced back every time,” Dahlman said. “It was hard sitting out last year, but I think that was good for me because I didn’t know his style of play, I didn’t know how the team played.”

As a high school basketball player in Braham, Minnesota, Dahlman was considered one of the best in her state. The McDonald’s All-American was the first player in Minnesota history to score over 5,000 career points, which was good enough for her to be awarded as a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Minnesota en route to earning the title of Minnesota’s Miss Basketball in 2013. Dahlman averaged over 35 points per game her senior year and led Braham Area High School to the Class 2-A championship game, earning her AP Minnesota Player of the Year.

This season, Dahlman hopes to be a leader by providing mentorship to the younger players and pushing the other guards on her team to be better.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Dahlman said when asked if she sees herself becoming a more versatile and well-rounded athlete. “I think coach (Bruno) has developed me as a player so much already.”

Doug Bruno, head coach of the women’s basketball team, had high praise for Dahlman and hopes that she stays healthy in her final year of eligibility.

“Our goal for her is just first of all to have one great ‘Shangri- La’ healthy season so she can walk away from her college experience having one great year where her body has stayed healthy, top to bottom, from first game to last game,” Bruno said. “If she is able to stay healthy, she brings great scoring ability. She’s another very effective facilitator and she brings that great energy and gusto to the game.”

Daninger’s injury was also a blow to the team. The five-foot- seven-inch redshirt freshman from Andover, Minnesota sat out last season due to a systemic disorder. This was a tough emotional barrier for Daninger to overcome.

“That was really hard, especially not knowing what was going on where I went through so many tests, so many doctor’s appointments and I just couldn’t figure it out,” Daninger said. “I think the hardest part for me is because I’ve never really dealt with anything like that in my whole life.”

Daninger was a highly touted perimeter shooter in high school. As a senior she was a finalist for Miss Basketball Minnesota after averaging over 19 points, six rebounds and four assists per game.

“She’s just a premiere shooter, just a premium shooter,” Bruno said. “She’s still young and doesn’t have a lot of court time yet, she’s still feeling her way through the process. But I really see her as a great outside shooter and I think she’s gonna have a great impact on the program for sure before her career’s up.”

Now that Daninger is healthy, she has a new appreciation for being able to do the little things from practicing on her jump shot to working on cardio. With that elevated sense of appreciation, Daninger said that she hopes to contribute to everything from assists to shooting this season.

“It makes me appreciate every practice and every time I can step on the court, every time I can run,” Daninger said. “Kind of bringing any type of energy I can bring is kind of how I see myself playing into it.”

The road to recovery for both players was a long one, and Bruno gave lots of credit to DePaul’s Sports Medicine Department for helping bring his players back.

“We have a coaching theory about practicing within your mind, with or without your body,” Bruno said. “God takes your body, God doesn’t take your mind. Practice within your mind while you’re without your body, and that’s what we do as coaches.”