Last year, junior Welma Luus was part of the No. 15 doubles pairing in the nation and was one of only three Terrapins women’s tennis players who played in the NCAA tournament.
Ten months and an MRI later, she has yet to play in a match this spring. A season-ending torn labrum ruined any chance of building on her success as a sophomore last season, but the injury might have given Luus — a volunteer assistant coach this year — a glimpse at a future career.
“I definitely think, at least for a year or two after college, I would want to do college coaching,” said Luus, who will be on the sidelines when the Terps play at No. 15 Clemson tomorrow and at Georgia Tech on Sunday. “So I definitely want to use this experience and see what I can do with it.”
It’s not a position the South African expected to be in when the team began practice in the fall. She was one of only two returning Terps players, and her experience was a chief asset for a young squad. In fact, first-year coach Daria Panova even turned to her longest-tenured player for help in the fall whenever she had a question.
A nagging shoulder injury made playing this season difficult, though. Luus said she has felt pain in her right shoulder since her freshman season, but doctors were unable to diagnose the problem. So Luus kept playing until finally, this fall, the pain became too much.
She decided to look for help back home and sent an MRI to her doctor in South Africa. The injury would require surgery, ending a promising junior season before it could begin.
“At first it was the end of my world. Tennis is what I came here to do,” Luus said. “What helped me a lot during this time is that I got to be really involved with the team.”
Luus attends every practice and every match, and doles out helpful tips or pieces of advice to every Terp, from the five freshmen to the sole senior, Vroni Van Berlo.
“When you have an injury, some players really get down because they aren’t able to hit,” Van Berlo said. “But she’s doing a really good job still supporting us even though she wants to be out there on the court.”
In three weeks, Luus plans to start training with the rest of the Terps. She has already started training individually twice a week and says she’s pain-free for the first time in more than two years. However, Luus doesn’t expect to play full matches again until this summer.
Though Luus said she would never want to go through this experience again, she believes watching from the sidelines has taught her a lot about herself — as a player and a person. She has learned to be patient, to see the whole picture during the match and not get caught up in a badly played point.
All the while, she has retained her passion for the game, one of the first traits both Van Berlo and Panova mentioned when describing her.
“She’s not afraid to say something. She has a great energy,” Panova said. “She’s all about Maryland. I think she’s the perfect role model right now.”
All of those traits and skills should prove useful when Luus pursues a professional coaching career. But at the moment, Luus remains focused on playing. She has obtained a medical redshirt and still has two years of eligibility left to recapture last year’s success.
“I’ll play some tournaments over the summer and over the fall, so I definitely think it will be possible for me to get back to that level,” Luus said. “I can do even better than that.”