Athlete of the Week: Hayley Semple talks lifting weights on Francis Field and recovering from a torn ACL
Hayley Semple played both basketball and volleyball in high school, but basketball has always been her passion. Now a junior on the Washington University women’s basketball team, Semple has been through a lot in her more than two years with the Bears, from an exhilarating competition for the UAA conference title her freshman year to a devastating ACL tear the next week. Student Life called Semple to discuss the craziness of the past few months and what it was like to recover from her injury.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Student Life: Let’s start off before Wash. U. What’s your first sports memory?
Hayley Semple: That would be basketball. Growing up, I played pretty much every sport you can think of. I did even gymnastics, softball, soccer and volleyball, but I think basketball was the first sport I ever started to play. I think my earliest memory was the park district team that I played on with a lot of my grade school friends—I think it was second grade. My dad was that coach, so that was pretty fun.
SL: What has it been like to have all of the starts and stops this fall, first not being allowed to practice in the gym, and then you were in the gym for a while and now you’re not allowed back in there?
HS: It’s been a crazy year. I’m always optimistic that we’ll get to practice again every time it stops or there’s something else we have to take a step back from, but now I’m just [feeling] lucky that we got to do anything at all because there is a huge pandemic going on. I’m grateful that we got to do what we got to do this fall. And I think we’re just hopeful that next semester we’ll get to do a bit more. It was definitely different, this season. We lifted [weights] outside in the fall, which we all ended up really enjoying, which was weird. We weren’t expecting to like that so much, but we would go [onto Francis Field, outside the Athletic Complex] and watch the sun rise as we were lifting. Sometimes it was a little cold, but we were just wearing sweatshirts and that was a change that we were surprised we liked so much.
SL: Wow, that sounds like a fun way of adapting to bad circumstances. I imagine y’all probably don’t have much of a sense of what the spring will look like right now, right?
HS: Yeah, it’s uncertain, as usual. I feel like everything is up in the air, always, this year. But we’re really hoping that we can play some games this year. That’d be really cool.
SL: Yeah, we’re hoping for you. I hope you’re able to have some sort of opportunity like that, whether it’s playing in a game or even just being able to get back in the gym…I noticed that in high school, you were listed as a guard and then here at Wash. U. it says you’re both a guard and a forward. Do you have a preference between the two positions? What aspect of playing on the court do you like the most?
HS: I’ve always been a pretty versatile player. In high school, I was a point guard for a while my freshman year. I mostly do guard but I am a taller guard, so I can do the four. I don’t think I’d ever do the five. My favorite thing to do in basketball is to drive to the basket, and I can definitely do that from down low as well, which I think is why I’m listed as a post as well here. [Laughing] I’ve never played point guard here.
SL: You didn’t play in the playoffs freshman year, even though you had started for most of the year. Were you hurt, or what was up there?
HS: I actually tore my ACL during our last conference game that year.
SL: Oh, god.
HS: Yeah, that was a huge bummer and then I didn’t come back from that until conference of my sophomore year.
SL: Were you able to travel with the team during the playoffs freshman year?
HS: I was not. Because of the injury I had to get my surgery and stuff. I forgot what state the team went to for the Elite Eight, but I was watching from home, which was kind of sad, but it was still exciting to watch all of my friends playing on the big screen.
SL: Yeah, that still must have been a lot of fun, just to see the team go so far. What was the recovery from the ACL tear like?
HS: ACLs are usually six to nine months of recovery. Basically, I had my surgery and then from there, I couldn’t walk for a while. I was on crutches for a few months at school in the spring, which was pretty difficult getting around, but I got through that. And I did some physical therapy here, but it was very basic things like slightly shifting my knee while sitting down, just a lot of very small movements trying to get it back to moving. When I went home for the summer, I had physical therapy three times a week, learning to walk again, run again. It was definitely a long time.
SL: What kept you going during that recovery?
HS: I just knew that I wanted to be back on the court so bad. I think that time really redefined what basketball meant to me. It was just difficult not being able to play a sport that I had played my whole life. It was a drastic change.
SL: What was it like to return to the court last winter in conference play?
HS: That was exciting to do, but it was a little mentally tough on me. I think my first game back, I only played a few minutes, and I was just so excited to be back on the court. I don’t think I even touched the ball. I was just running back and forth and I was so excited to be out there again. It had been so long, so that was really exciting, but it was definitely a different role that I had on the team, my sophomore year from my freshman year. It was fun getting to do that and find different ways to be there for my teammates than I did freshman year.
SL: Yeah, I saw that. It seemed like freshman year you started a lot and then last year you were mostly playing off the bench. How did you transition into that role and, like you were saying, find different ways to support your teammates?
HS: I really just tried to give the team as much as I can. And it just had to come in a different form sophomore year. I understood that and I knew that I wasn’t in the same place that I was my freshman year. There were so many talented girls on the team, especially last year’s freshmen were so talented, and I loved just being there for them on the side and giving any advice that I had from my freshman year.
SL: Let’s do one last question: What’s your favorite memory from your time playing with the Bears?
HS: I think when we won the [University Athletic Association] my freshman year was really exciting. I tore my ACL the last conference game, but we had already won the UAA the previous game, so I got to play in that one, which was cool. And we were all celebrating after, and it was fun just seeing our hard work pay off and really cool to be a part of that. The senior class put so much time and effort into getting there and I was just lucky that I could help them reach that goal that they had for the team.