Prague's Chantae Embry always tried to be a vocal leader on the basketball court.
As a freshman, Embry led the Lady Red Devils to the state tournament and had a lot of people looking forward to this season.
Then on July 7, everything changed and her leadership was all she had to offer her team. Embry was playing with her summer team, the Arkansas Banshees, when she made contact with the stanchion below the basket and injured her knee. At first, the diagnosis was nothing severe. It appeared she just had a significant bruise to her knee.
Further tests revealed a worst case scenario; she had torn her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus. Those injuries usually take about a year of rehabilitation after surgery before a player can return to the court.
Embry went from scoring and rebounding to cheering and encouraging on the bench. The transition wasn't easy for her.
"At first I was just sad a lot," Embry said. "I was working as hard as I ever had. In one split second it was all gone."
It wasn't any easier for her mother. Rhonda Embry is undoubtedly her daughter's biggest fan and supporter. She had just endured a senior season with her son Ray, who broke his arm after the first football game of the year.
Now her daughter, who is being recruited by some of the best programs in the country, was going to lose a season to injury and face the pain and hardship of rehab.
"It was really difficult in the beginning," Rhonda said. "The first day we found out she tore it, we both cried all day. We had that one day to cry it out, but we got through it."
Rhonda said it was difficult to see her daughter in pain physically and emotionally as she fought through the injury.
"The day of her surgery, I tried to remain calm for her but she covered her head most of the ride and I knew she was so heartbroken," Rhonda said. "The first day of therapy it was so painful to her, and we cried in the car holding hands all the way back, but we got through it."
Chantae said her work ethic has always helped her prepare, but she knows that this setback has taught her a lot about herself and made her realize that she could have done more.
"I always gave one hundred percent," Chantae said. "But my work ethic has changed. I think I took being able to play for granted a little bit. I look back now and wish I had done a few things differently."
That change in her work ethic is showing results in her attempts to get back on the court.
"I have to really talk and pray to keep her encouraged as I did Ray when he broke his arm," Rhonda said. "The summer before both of their injuries, both of them had worked so hard and gained attention from college coaches. Chantae was getting up at 6:30 in the morning doing strength and conditioning with the football boys and she was just training so hard on her own and was looking forward to a big sophomore year to help the team make it back to state."
Now she is working hard to get back for her junior year.
"I watch a lot of film of last year and of players that I look up to," Chantae said. "I am also learning a lot seeing the game from the bench, things like gaps in defenses and a better way to cut to the basket."
Chantae isn't able to score or play defense, but she does everything she can to encourage and help her team from the sidelines.
"I have always been an encourager," she said. "When it first happened, Coach (Benny) Burnett gave me a whistle and told me I was going to help him coach this year. Those things meant a lot to me."
Chantae said college teams are even watching her during this recovery period to learn about her in this role. She is still taking visits to colleges, including a recent recruiting trip to Tulsa.
As her rehabilitation gets her back closer to the court, Chantae wanted to thank her mother for everything she had done for her, from encouraging her to changing her schedule to make physical therapy appointments.
"If it weren't for her, I would have broken down," she said. "But she won't let me break. She is always positive."
"I constantly, and I mean daily, remind them that things happen to all of us, no matter how you plan and prepare, but it’s how you handle those things and persevere through them that will prepare you for life," Rhonda said. "Both Ray and Chantae have good character, and that will take them far in life. I believe they both will be stronger because of the challenges they have faced so early in life, and I pray they can use those challenges to better their lives and make an impact on others throughout life."
Chantae won't make it back this season, but she is hopeful that she can make it back for some action this summer before her junior season at Prague.