Notre Dame welcomes return of Abby Prohaska

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — When scrappy, energetic, work-savoring, practice-loving Abby Prohaska abruptly became none of those things last year, and remained that way over several days, coaches and teammates knew something was wrong.

They encouraged her to visit a doctor.

Initial blood work checked out OK, but Prohaska’s fatigue lasted and her pain persisted.

Then came a trip to the emergency room in mid-October, just a couple weeks in front of the 2019-20 season.

That brought a diagnosis that the then-19-year-old Notre Dame women’s basketball sophomore had never heard of.

“When I first found out, I didn’t really understand,” Prohaska said Wednesday. “They came in and explained what it was, and when they kind of put it in English that I’d understand, my heart kind of dropped into my stomach and I didn’t really have any words.”

It was bilateral pulmonary embolism.

“In other words, I have a blood clot in each of my lungs,” Prohaska would eventually share in a tweet announcing her condition last November.

“I kind of lost my voice,” the guard from Liberty Township, Ohio, recalled this week of when she first found out, “but I was surrounded by our medical staff, so that really helped comfort me, and my mom was on her way already to the hospital.”

Prohaska says she gained strength from the support of then-coach Muffet McGraw and her teammates as her basketball future suddenly became a question mark and her long-term health became everything.

With treatment, rest and eventually a workout regimen that included biking and weight lifting, Prohaska, who cited age being on her side, bounced back so well that she ultimately gained full basketball clearance midway through last January, right around the three-month mark of a three to six-month recovery period that had been estimated.

By then, though, Notre Dame’s season was about two-thirds over and Prohaska opted to sit out the remainder of it, other than practice, saving her a full season of eligibility.

On Friday, 599 days after her last collegiate contest, that being a relief role in the 2019 national title game against Baylor, Prohaska finally returned to game action, starting for the Irish in their 86-85 season-opening loss at Ohio.

The red-headed lefty appeared her fierce and unflinching old self in some ways — coaxing a couple opposition charging fouls to go with four points, seven rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes — but also appeared game-rusty, air-balling three shots on her way to a 1-of-7 day from the field.

Coach Niele Ivey didn’t mind too much.

“I know she’s going to grow from this game,” Ivey said, adding that Prohaska also played much of it out of position at a forward due to several other ND players being sidelined.

“Abby gives us toughness,” Ivey said. “She’s ready to do whatever I ask her to do. She’s going to run through a wall, so I just love her energy and what she brings to the team.”

Prohaska’s familiar with and appreciative of that kind of description. It echoes some of what McGraw used to say about her when she was a freshman averaging 1.5 points, 1.1 assists and 0.8 steals in 14.4 minutes per outing to go with her intangibles.

Now, though, she wants to be more.

“Being a junior and an upperclassman at this point in my career, I definitely am trying to expand my overall game,” Prohaska said. “That doesn’t decrease the importance of me bringing energy all the time. I know that’s kind of my MO on the team, so I try to do that in the best way that I can, along with working on other skills that Coach Ivey has kind of helped me understand. … I’m trying to be a more vocal leader, along with the energy that I had my freshman year.”

Most of all, though, Prohaska says she’s cherishing playing the game of basketball, something she knows firsthand is not promised.

She’s also trying to be extra careful.

“COVID is an increased risk,” Prohaska confirmed of the virus mixed with her medical history. “I also have asthma, sports-induced, so naturally, (COVID’s) not necessarily something I would prefer to catch right now.”

Not surprisingly, she tosses in a positive spin.

“Weirdly enough, quarantine actually helped me work out a lot and really get in the gym and have that extra time and extra period to get healthy,” Prohaska said. “Right now, I feel a hundred percent and I’ve been training to play 40 minutes. That’s the goal, to be in the best shape I can, and I am happy to say I am fully recovered.”

Still sidelined

As was the case for Friday’s opener at Ohio, the Irish are again expected to be without three returning starters — Sam Brunelle, Katlyn Gilbert and Mikki Vaughn — and a pair of freshmen — Nat Marshall and Amirah Abdur-Rahim — for Sunday’s home opener against Miami of Ohio.

Notre Dame has not disclosed reasons for the absences.

The Irish had just eight players available against the Bobcats and used just seven, with two fouling out.

Redhawks red-flagged

Miami was originally scheduled to open its season Wednesday at Wisconsin, but the game was postponed “due to protocols related to COVID-19 for the RedHawks,” per a Wisconsin news release.

If their schedule holds up from here, the Hawks will play four of their first five games against Indiana programs.

Following Sunday’s contest at Notre Dame, they’re slated to visit Purdue on Thursday, host Valparaiso on Dec. 8 and travel to Evansville on Dec. 19.

Notre Dame’s Abby Prohaska, center, defends as Baylor’s Moon Ursin drives in during the NCAA women’s basketball National Championship game on April 7, 2019, at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.

WHO: Miami of Ohio (0-0) at No. 22 Notre Dame (0-1).

WHEN: Sunday, 4 p.m.

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame.

TV: ACCN.

RADIO: WQLQ (99.9 FM).

MIAMI (OHIO) AT NOTRE DAME

NOTING: The Irish play their home opener, but this one will be unlike any game at Purcell Pavilion in decades with only invited guests of the players and coaches allowed in under this season’s coronavirus-related attendance policy. … Notre Dame has won 25 straight home openers, but also saw its streak of 25 consecutive season-opening wins, regardless of site, snapped in Friday’s 86-85 loss at Ohio. … Sunday’s game is the first of five straight slated at home. The Irish host No. 25 Michigan on Thursday. … Miami brings a heavy Indiana flavor to town. The RedHawks are in their second season under DeUnna Hendrix, a senior standout for undefeated Kokomo High’s 2003 Class 4A state title team. Four of Hendrix’s players, all freshmen or sophomores, are also from Indiana, including freshman Sydney Watkins, a former teammate of ND’s Katlyn Gilbert at Heritage Christian in Indianapolis. Watkins, though, is out for the season due to injury. … Miami graduated the premier two players off its 11-20 club of last season in Lauren Dickerson and Savannah Kluesner. The top returnee statistically is sophomore guard Peyton Scott, who averaged 12.5 points and 1.9 steals as a freshman. Senior swing Abbey Hoff averaged 6.7 points last winter, while 6-3 senior forward Kelly McLaughlin was at 5.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 13.5 minutes. … The Hawks lead the all-time series against the Irish 4-2, but the teams have not met since ND’s 98-50 home win in November 2007.