Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Through Hell and back’: Beth Marshall recovers from injuries, tragedy to lead Wildcats

Whenever the Wildcats are looking for direction, all eyes are on Beth Marshall. The junior point guard commands attention in the Northwestern huddle. It’s not her size: at 5-foot-5 she is the shortest player on the Cats’ roster. It’s not her stat line: Marshall averages six points a game, the fewest of NU’s five starters. Rather, it’s something coach Joe McKeown describes as a “floor-general confidence.”

“People trust her out there,” McKeown said. “They feel like she’s going to get them the ball in the right place. She’s going to make the right decisions. She’s going to make pressure free throws. She’s going to do all the things that, as a point guard, you have to do at the end of the game.”

Although she hasn’t played a full season in three years, Marshall has quickly become NU’s emotional leader. This is partly because she plays point guard, in her words, the “quarterback of the team.” It is also because the team trusts Marshall to help them overcome: a bad pass, a missed shot or a lost game. Those are petty failures compared to what Marshall has endured over the past two years: a fractured femur, a torn ACL and the death of her father.

“She is the ultimate survivor,” McKeown said. “A lot of people in her situation would have said, ‘I’ve been through hell and back, and I’m just going to finish school.’ But she has fought back.”

On the court, Marshall knows exactly how to help her team fight back. As the team gathers together, Marshall puts her arms around her teammates and says,”We can do this.”

“Even when teams make their runs on us, when we huddle during free throws I’m always like, ‘Believe in ourselves. They’re making their run, but we can do this,'” Marshall said.After all, Marshall has come back from much worse than a 10-point deficit.

Fractued Femur

Three weeks before the first game of her sophomore season, Marshall felt a dull ache in her left leg. She initially thought it was soreness, but the pain progressed until it hurt Marshall to walk. The day before NU left for its season-opening tournament, Marshall had an MRI performed on her leg that revealed a stress fracture in her left femur. Marshall initially wanted to play through it, but her doctors told her she risked completely breaking the bone. If that happened, they would have to insert a rod the length of the bone.

“It would have been a major, major surgery,” Marshall said. “I didn’t want to put my career, or even just my health in general, at risk.”

Even though Marshall was sidelined for the season, her biggest fan still attended almost every NU game. Marshall’s father, Tim, had made it a point to watch his daughter play during her freshman year. Even with Beth on the bench the next season, Tim habitually made the four-hour drive from Fishers, Ind., to Evanston.

“All athletes go through these setbacks,” the elder Marshall told his daughter. “It’s just something you have to work through. God is doing it for a reason.”tragedy strikes

In the middle of that season, the Cats were in Michigan for a clash with the Wolverines. Several hours after checking into the hotel, then-sophomore guard Kristin Cartwright returned to her room to find Marshall, her roommate, missing. Cartwright asked around and soon heard the grim news: Marshall was on her way to St. Louis to visit her father, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Already out for the year, Marshall had the time to support her father as he went through the preliminary stages of treatment.

“Looking back on it my mom and I say, ‘Maybe (my injury) was a blessing in disguise,'” Marshall said. “Because I wasn’t able to play, it was a lot easier for me to step away and take that time to spend with him.”

In February, Tim was treated by Dr. Allan Friedman at the Duke University Medical Center. Friedman, the same doctor who would treat former Sen. Edward Kennedy, determined Tim had stage four glioblastoma, the most advanced phase of a brain tumor.

It was also terminal.

“It’s not easy to hear that my dad had an incurable disease,” Marshall said. “You don’t really think about the emotional side of it at that point. You’re just thinking, ‘That can’t be true; there has to be something we can do.'”

After five rounds of chemotherapy, the Marshalls voluntarily ended treatment in July. Tim passed away one month later.

New injury, same result

Marshall was cleared to return to the court in August 2008. Five days later, misfortune struck again. During a pick-up game at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Marshall went up for a left-handed layup. She planted her left foot, but her knee gave out before she could take off, and she collapsed to the floor. Marshall was able to walk off the court with the help of the trainer, but then-sophomore center Amy Jaeschke and the rest of the team feared the worst.

“Everyone was just like, ‘No!'” Jaeschke recalled. “You could tell it was bad because Beth is a pretty tough person, she’ll fight through injuries. She didn’t stand up right away. She needed the trainers to come so you knew it wasn’t good.”

After several tests the trainers confirmed what the team had dreaded: Marshall had torn her ACL.

“It was really disheartening,” Marshall said. “I felt like I was there, and it got knocked back to a year earlier with one layup. It was really hard.”

Marshall was back on the bench, but things were different. A new coach was prowling the sidelines, and NU was implementing a different offense and defense. Marshall took advantage of her unfavorable situation, familiarizing herself with McKeown’s system and tutoring point guard Jenny Eckhart.

“I almost felt like a coach,” Marshall said. “I definitely saw things differently. Jenny would always come to me at halftime and be like, ‘So what are you seeing that I’m not seeing?’

And I could say, ‘It looks like when you’re driving, instead of dishing, you should be shooting.’

“I’ve kind of been able to take that into my own game. We run a lot of the same plays that we did last year. Watching those plays from the sideline, I already kind of knew what I wanted to do when I was on the floor.”

Back in action

Now that Marshall has returned to the court, she is making her presence felt.

But it wasn’t easy at the start. Not only was NU’s exhibition match against Robert Morris the first game Marshall played in three years, it was also the first since her father’s death.

“It was kind of like the elephant in the room,” Marshall said. “I was really excited because it was the first time I was going to play, but I was emotional. I really didn’t know if I could do it because he would come an hour before the game. That was hard because I kept looking for him. I still do look for him.”

Marshall has contributed in a variety of ways, but her biggest impact cannot be captured in the box score.

“What she gives us is an air of confidence on the court, a toughness and a leadership at that position that really has carried over to the rest of our team,” McKeown said.

Last year 17 of NU’s games were decided by 10 points or fewer. Of those the Cats won five. This year NU has played 14 games decided by the same margin, winning eight. Marshall is responsible for much of the improvement.

“With (Marshall) there’s always a consistency,” Cartwright said. “If there’s a tight situation, we all know that she’s going to handle herself with poise and not get rattled.”

McKeown pointed to NU’s win over then-No. 15 DePaul as an example of Marshall’s late-game composure. After the Cats blew a 10-point lead, Marshall scored five points while picking up one rebound and one steal in the final two minutes.

She was also at the free-throw line late in both of NU’s wins over Michigan.

“In any close game I don’t think anything but, ‘We’re going to win this,'” Marshall said. “That is my attitude. ‘We’re going to win this, and I have to do whatever it is to make us win

After her trio of setbacks, Marshall is playing with a newfound determination. For the first time in three years, she has the opportunity to make a difference.

“When I didn’t see people working hard, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, when I have my chance back on the floor, I’m never going to let anyone say that about me,'” Marshall said. “I know how easily it can be taken from you.”[email protected]

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Through Hell and back’: Beth Marshall recovers from injuries, tragedy to lead Wildcats