In June, Fleetwood’s Alexis Hess Jr. was sitting on her couch, unable to walk.
Hess, one of the state’s top basketball players, was recovering from surgery that placed cadaveric cartilage in her knee to supplement the missing cartilage caused by an osteochondral defect. The operation and subsequent recovery forced Hess to miss the entire AAU season.
“It was tough for me mentally to see all these other girls playing, and I had to sit on the couch and watch them play,” Hess said. “I stuck it out. I knew in my mind that if I worked hard I would start playing again.
After being unable to walk for two months after the June 22 surgery, Hess worked hard throughout the fall to recover. Despite the challenges, she said she believed she would play basketball at a high level again.
“I know I had a really huge, positive support system behind me,” said Hess, an All-State third-team pick in Class 5A last season. “It helped me build my confidence to replay.”
Ahead of schedule, Hess returned to action on Friday night in Fleetwood’s 47-40 win over Conestoga Valley. The Tigers fell to 1-1 with a 32-29 loss to Lebanon on Saturday.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I would be ready for the season, but I worked really hard during my physiotherapy,” Hess said. “I’m ready.”
Hess, a goalie, led the team with 21 points in Friday’s win over the Buckskins. She scored six on Saturday.
“I am so grateful for the surgery,” Hess said. “I’m grateful because now that I’m improving I feel like I can do a lot more and get down to the pitch.”
Last season, Fleetwood finished 6-3 in Berks II, 10-7 overall. The Tigers were eliminated in the first round of the BCIAA and District 3 Class 5A playoffs.
In his sophomore year, Hess led Fleetwood in scoring, averaging 17.5 points per game. Twice selected by the All-Berks, she wore a brace and often played with significant swelling in her knee.
This season, with a now healthy Hess, the Tigers are also sacking senior Julia Kaskey, who averaged 8.8 points per game last season and is a two-time selection in all divisions. Along with seasoned leaders, first-year coach Steve Zeller said he believes Fleetwood can make a splash in the playoffs.
“I have high hopes for us this year,” Zeller said. “We are looking to compete for the county championship. “
While Hess has been the Tigers’ leading scorer since she was a freshman, Zeller said she doesn’t hesitate to pass the ball.
“She sees the court, and she’s not selfish,” Zeller said. “She loves her teammates (and) she loves it when they’re involved.”
Hess is recruited by Division I schools across the country. This summer, she will be living in Ohio and playing for Ohio United AAU, her second season with the team.
“There is no harder worker,” Zeller said. “The skills and things she possesses are no accident. She has a natural gift, but she worked.
As a high school athlete, AAU basketball player and much-sought-after rookie, Hess has plenty on her mind. However, when she steps onto the pitch, she said she only focused on doing her best.
“I have such a love for the game that I don’t allow things to really get to me,” Hess said. “I know there are people out there looking, but if I just play my game and do what I have to do, I just know things are going to follow.”