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Loyola Ramblers Catcher Is A Profile in Courage

By Justin Breen | February 21, 2013 6:19am | Updated on February 21, 2013 12:18pm

ROGERS PARK — If Hannah Berris wanted to call it a day and end her Loyola University softball career, most people would understand.

Over a 21-month span, the Ramblers senior blew out her right knee three times. While at Loyola, Berris has had 16 months of rehabilitation compared to just 29 career at-bats.

Yet she's back for her final campaign, hoping to inspire the Ramblers to their first trip to the NCAA tournament, even though she likely will receive almost no playing time.

"To me that's not important anymore," said Berris, 21, whose club begins its season Friday. "I just want to be there to support my team."

Berris starred at Plainfield North High School, where the three-time captain batted .395 and was named one of Illinois' top 100 players as a senior.

But on Feb. 22, 2010, just a week before the Ramblers' first game of her freshman season, Berris tore her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus when she tried to sidestep a teammate during a base-running drill at practice.

"I was really confused how all of a sudden I was laying on the ground, but then it was excruciatingly painful," Berris said.

After surgery in April and four months of rehab, Berris tore her meniscus again and damaged cartilage during the last exercise — a side-to-side agility drill — of her very last rehab session.

"I think that was rock bottom for her," said Berris' sister, Emily, 23, a student at Michigan State University's law school. "At that point is where she realized she wasn't going to be able to play like she used to play."

Berris had another surgery and six more months of rehab. She played 14 games as a sophomore, starting 10 times, but batted only .172.

Even though she had two hits in her first game back and also blasted a home run that season, Berris' favorite plate appearance was when she sacrificed a runner from second to third in an eventual 4-3, 11-inning victory over Purdue.

Loyola won the regular-season conference championship, and Berris hoped the Ramblers would claim the league tournament crown — and automatic NCAA tourney berth — as a junior.

But while sliding during a drill in November 2011, Berris said her right knee went "in a way it shouldn't have gone."

Berris tried to play it off like she wasn't hurt and practiced for two more weeks. Eventually Berris was told she had torn her ACL a second time, which caused her to miss her entire junior year.

"It's one of those things where your heart just sinks," Loyola head coach Missy Beseres said.

Berris endured another surgery and six more months of rehab. She was just cleared in June to play for her final season.

She won't see the field much. Instead, Berris will warm up the Loyola pitchers in the bullpen and will have "minimal at-bats," Beseres said.

"I want her quality of life when she's done with softball not to be of an 80 year old," said Beseres, a University Village resident. "I want to make sure she's OK."

And Berris is fine with that. She doesn't mind pumping up teammates from the bench and helping them off the field as well.

Her best friend on the team is freshman Kat Widup, who injured the rotator cuff in her right shoulder twice while playing for Neuqua Valley High School.

Widup said Berris was a constant companion when the two were rehabbing from their injuries.

"She just told me to be patient, and eventually I would be able to play like everyone else," Widup said. "She's been pretty inspiring."

Berris has two more years of eligibility, but said this is definitely her last Loyola season. The elementary education major soon will focus on the next stage of her life: becoming a teacher.

Besides hoping to inspire her to team to go to the NCAAs this year, which would be a first in Ramblers history, Berris wants to leave a mark in one other way.

"I want people to remember all the hard work that I've put into everything and that I never gave up," she said.