Box cleared to play for Region IV tourney

Just in time

Lydia Box's head was sandwiched between an opponent's body and the floor. That was Feb. 12, and that was the last time Box played.

The Sauk Valley sophomore missed the team's last three games of the regular season, all losses, with a concussion. She returned to practice Wednesday and will play in the Skyhawks' regional semifinal. Third-seeded Sauk (13-14) meets second-seeded Malcolm X of Chicago at 3 p.m. Sunday at Highland Community College in Freeport.

Box's injury happened in the first half of Sauk's 58-50 home win over Black Hawk. The concussion shook up Box, who is averaging 19.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game.

"I never had one. It was pretty scary," she said. "I was going up in the lane for a layup. I came down and I collided with an opponent. I was falling and she sat on the right side of my head, then I hit the floor."

Then came the battle with the concussion symptoms: dizziness, headaches, trouble sleeping, exhaustion.

Box went to the doctor the next morning and slowly progressed until being medically cleared. Box wasn't sure if that day would come in time.

"I was really worried," she said. "I was so scared that my headaches weren't going to go away and the doctor wouldn't clear me.

"I can't wait for Sunday. Every time I was on the bench, my body would shake because I wanted to be in so bad."

Box's concussion was just the latest obstacle the Skyhawks have had to overcome.

Coming into the season, Sauk had to find a way to replace Skyhawks' all-time leading scorer and honorable mention All-American Shamika Williams, who led last year's 21-9 squad and is now at the NCAA Division II University of Tampa (Fla.).

At the semester break, Sauk lost starting point guard Kayla Barlow, who was dismissed from the team, according to coach Jed Johnson. The Rockford product was averaging 12 points per game.

In stepped Dixon High School graduate Holly Nicklaus, the team's other returning sophomore. The versatile 6-footer had been the Skyhawk's small forward.

Nicklaus does a little bit of everything, averaging 8.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.3 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game.

"I've always been a point guard, but the college level is totally different," Nicklaus said. "It's a lot harder. The girls are a lot quicker. It's a struggle. I'm not the best, and I turn the ball over a lot, but I know how to pass, and I'm getting used to being back at the point."

"We've had to make adjustments throughout the year," Johnson said. "We've been through quite a bit. Everything we've gone through has made us ready for this tournament."

Box and one

Box's per game averages: 19.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.5 steals

Nicklaus' averages: 8.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.6 blocks