North Haven girls basketball sparked by return of Julia Ball from ACL injury

North Haven basketball player Julia Ball at the school Jan. 13, 2022.

North Haven basketball player Julia Ball at the school Jan. 13, 2022.

scott ericson

It was a year ago that Julia Ball was at her lowest point.

In a game last January against Foran, Ball went down with a knee injury and immediately knew it was bad news.

A few days later her fears were confirmed when she was diagnosed with a torn ACL, wiping out her junior season on the basketball court at North Haven.

“It was really scary. It was a lot to take in at once, knowing I was not going to be able to play for a really long time. It took a long time to work back up to where I am today,” Ball said. “I had a lot of physical therapy, a lot of running and working out. Then I had to get back into basketball shape as well, running and shooting and lifting. It took a lot to get back to where I am now.”

Where Ball is now is back on the court leading the Nighthawks to a 7-3 start, averaging 20.1 points, 4.1 steals, 3.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists a game playing in what many consider the best girls basketball conference in the state this season, the SCC.

Two of North Haven’s three losses have come to teams ranked in the GameTimeCT Top 10 in No. 2 Hand and No. 1 Hamden, both of whom North Haven will play again this season.

Last season after the injury, all Ball could do was watch.

However, she used that time to study the game from a perspective she rarely had before, from the bench.

“Sitting on the bench was the hardest part. I hated it and I loved it,” Ball said. “It opened my eyes a little bit because I was able to see the whole game and the whole court all the time. I could watch and see everything that I had to work on when I got back to the game. As much as I didn’t want to be down on the bench, it really benefited me when I eventually came back.”

After rehabbing, she returned in limited action this summer playing AAU basketball for BattleCon before fully ramping up basketball activities in the fall.

Ball credits her father Robert and mother Elizabeth being by her side the entire time she was injured as the major reason she was able to get through the process.

Her dad, who played college basketball after a high school career at Branford, had first-hand knowledge of what it would take to get back..

“It was tough to see Julia get injured. She had been playing at a high level and the team was having success and for her to go down with a non-contact injury was hard,” Robert Ball said. “I blew out my knee in a men’s league game so I had gone through the whole process. The technology and medical advancements are different but the mental part of it was the same.”

He said his daughter never really took a break from going to the gym, even prior to and right after her surgery, doing whatever she could to stay in shape before she could get back to basketball activities.

Knowing what she went through makes watching her play as a senior even more meaningful for her parents.

“It’s all her. We tell her things but being back on the court, is all her,” Robert said. “Julia has a great mindset and she’s doing it. It was a special moment seeing her back out there. Having a full senior season and the team having success is what she wants and what she’s built for and what it’s all about.”

Ball is one of just two seniors on the North Haven roster and the lone senior captain.

“I like the responsibility. It was tough at first realizing it was just me but it’s the kind of responsibility that I like,” Ball said. “I love playing in the SCC. I love playing in really tough games and we have had some really tough games. We work really well as a team and it is really fun to come out and work hard and get that win and earn it against really good teams.”

North Haven coach Jessica Neuweiler is in her first season with the team and said having Ball back and leading the team is a dream come true for a first-year coach.

“The thing about Julia is that you would never think she had that injury. That is the greatest thing you can hope for about a player coming back. The mental part is just as hard as the physical part,” Neuweiler said. “She would run through a wall for the coaches and her teammates. She is tough as nails and I think that sets a bar for everybody else on the team. She has had some success in the first few games of the season and she keeps building her confidence.”

Neuweiler said Ball always lets her teammates know where she stands.

“The good thing about Julia is that there is no gray,” Neuweiler said. “She knows exactly what we need to do and she expects her teammates to do that. She’s not afraid to voice that. She expects everyone else to come up to that standard. We have two seniors but she’s our one senior captain and it is important to have that voice. Her teammates respond to it.”

Ball is listed as a shooting guard but has moved into small and power forward roles as needed.

“Her versatility is her biggest asset as a player. On any night, we will play Julia from the two to the four position which helps us,” Neuweiler said. “She is at her best when we are on a break. We play a high-tempo fastbreak style and she leads that for us. We can get rebounds and go and she is getting out there and finishing. The nice thing too is that she can play from the outside which gives us versatility when we can’t push the basketball.”

In addition to her offensive prowess, Ball is creating havoc on the top of the Nighthawks 3-2 and 1-2-2 zone defenses.

“Her length makes her tough to deal with as a defensive player. She is out front on our press and she sets that pace for us,” Neuweiler said. “She has a great wingspan and athleticism and can turn players defensively.”

The defensive side of the ball is where Ball said she has made the biggest improvements in her game.

Though it is still a work in progress, Ball feels more confident every time she steps on the court.

“When I got back on the court over the summer, I got cleared in June, it was tough at first but once I realized everything felt good and I could play like I used to, I was good,” Ball said. “It was hard to get back into it fully in terms of how to move and trusting myself to make cuts and jump. I think I did a good job. I feel better after each game and each practice.”