Like any freshman, Monica Burich arrived at the University of Colorado last year with a glittering high school resume and high hopes for her collegiate basketball career.
With one unfortunate cut, all that changed.
Burich had barely gotten to know her way around campus last year when a torn ACL in her left knee ended her inaugural season with CU Buffs women's basketball team before it even began. As CU continues preseason workouts in the first year under new coach JR Payne, few Buffs are more antsy for the Nov. 11 season-opener at Northern Colorado than Burich.
"I'm so ready to play and I'm really loving the new coaches," Burich said. "I'm excited to get out there and do something this year. I think the whole part of not doing what I wanted to do, and then having people that I leaned on during that time leave, that was the hard part. You grow close to people when there's adversity. We had a rough season last year and I was injured, so it's definitely hard to see them go away."
Burich, a 6-foot-2 swing player from Roseville, Minn., arrived at CU as a two-time all-state selection who averaged 18.7 points and nine rebounds during her senior season, finishing her prep career with more than 1,200 points.
During the preseason last year former CU coach Linda Lappe expressed optimism Burich would be part of the mix, but Burich's knee injury was the first significant setback among the many that contributed to the Buffs' 7-23 finish. For her part, Burich decided to make the most of her time on the sideline to learn what she could about the college game from a different perspective.
"I learned so much last year just watching," said Burich, who took a redshirt and still has four years of eligibility. "I was able to see what the coaches were doing, see what the team was doing to learn about the whole team-coach relationship in the college basketball atmosphere. I definitely was able to focus on other skills. You can still do some things even when you're not running. It definitely took me down to the basics, and I learned a lot from that as well."
Burich slowly is getting back to 100 percent during the preseason, with the expectation that she will be ready to go when the opener arrives in a month. Like the confidence expressed by the previous regime, Payne is expecting Burich to a key figure in her rebuilding project.
"She is really long and versatile," Payne said. "We'll probably play her mostly on the perimeter this year. She just has a long way to go to get strong enough to play inside because most freshmen come in a little bit smaller. She is not 100 percent, but she's getting there. She's getting close.
"Everyone is going to have to play and contribute this year. We don't have the depth or experience to say we're going to roll just with these six or seven players. Everyone is going to have to contribute and be able to do more and play multiple positions. (Burich) will be asked to do a lot."