March 5, 2012
The following story is featured in the 2012 Patriot League Basketball Tournament program.
By James Greene, Patriot League Assistant Media Relations Director
By the time they reach their fourth year, seniors on any team share an incredible bond.
But that which is shared between Army’s three seniors – Erin Jankowski, Meagan Doucette and Kait Goodall – goes far beyond what they’ve experienced on the basketball court.
“They’re my best friends,” Doucette said. “They’re people I know I’ll have with me the rest of my life, especially because at West Point we go through everything together. We’ve been together more than we’ve been with our families the last four years.
“I consider them my sisters.”
“I couldn’t ask for better friends. We’ve gone through all of our training together, all the school years together, all the long days of practices together,” Goodall noted. “We’re three different personalities, but I know no matter what’s going on, I can go to them. Our relationship is something you can’t put words to. I know that it’s going to continue off the court after we graduate.
“I will have those two girls for the rest of my life.”
As much as all three would love to be playing on the court together in the Patriot League Tournament, that won’t be happening. Jankowski, who came to West Point for the challenge and has learned to love the lifestyle of discipline the academy instills in its students, had to give up basketball in order to have the opportunity stay healthy enough to fulfill her commitment after graduation.
Jankowski tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee before her senior year of high school. It was surgically repaired and she rehabbed, but the joint was never quite the same. Meniscus and cartilage problems compounded the issue.
“My knee’s pretty much shot,” Jankowski admitted. “Playing another year of basketball would not have done it any good.”
By January of last season, the knee was so bad that simply walking became a significant chore.
“I talked to the trainer and got an MRI,” Jankowski explained. “They sat me down and said, ‘Here’s what your knee looks like.’”
The news wasn’t good. In order for Jankowski to remain fit enough for the future rigors of military life, she would have to walk away from the game.
“I was upset and mad,” she said. “I’ve known basketball since kindergarten. It’s been a big, big piece of my life. My best friends are through basketball. It was hard. And it’s still hard.”
Another significant personal loss befell Jankowski shortly after her decision to end her playing career – the death of her father.
“When my dad passed away right after my injury, if Erin Anthony (graduated last spring) and Meagan hadn’t been on the plane with me on the way back, I probably wouldn’t have come back,” Jankowski said.
The dust eventually settled. Last season came to an end, and it became time to look ahead to the 2011-12 campaign. The opportunity arose for Jankowski to remain affiliated with the basketball program for her senior season despite her inability to play. She currently serves as a special student assistant coach for Dave Magarity, now in his sixth season as the leading voice on the Black Knight bench.
The idea for the move came from the Army hockey program, where an injured player last season served in a similar role.
“Coach Magarity has been great with it,” Jankowski said. “I give the players advice and help them out with whatever they need. If the coaches need me to talk to someone, I’ll do that. I definitely see things from a coach’s perspective now. When Coach Magarity would get on me before, I would say, ‘What the heck are you talking about? I don’t get it.’ But now I can see it with clear eyes.
“I wish for anything to go back, have one more year, five more games, with this new perspective.”
“It’s very special, especially for everything that we’ve gone through and how close we are,” Doucette said of having Jankowski with the team in her role. “She can pull me aside and tell me something that calms me down during a timeout. She’s my person I can go and talk to and get back into the right mindset.”
The entire Army team, and especially its seniors, glean a huge piece of their inspiration just from having Jankowski on the bench.
“When I’ve had a bad day or practice isn’t going my way, you can hear Janks on the side,” Goodall said. “You know you have to give your all because if Erin was out there on the court she would give her all. It gives you that extra push you need to dig deep and find that drive and determination every day to do those things she can’t do.”
With graduation looming in the spring for all three, there are the inevitable thoughts of the future. Jankowski’s interest lies in engineering. Her dream is to be a platoon leader.
“I’m really looking forward to leading soldiers and doing what every Army officer does,” Jankowski explained. “I’d be happy to do anything in engineering.”
For Doucette and Goodall, their futures are in aviation. Doucette will remain at West Point to assist the women’s basketball program for several months after graduation before heading to flight school in Alabama for two years. After that, she hopes to spend five years – and maybe longer – flying helicopters.
Goodall will be exploring her interest in aviation as well.
“I’m a very aggressive person,” she said with a smile. “I’m excited just to be out there and make a difference that’s tangible. I can see myself in the helicopter seat. It’s just a perfect fit for me.”
But before that future becomes the present, there is Army’s chase for its first Patriot League Championship since the dream season of 2005-06, when Magarity was on the sidelines as an assistant on Maggie Dixon’s staff.
There’s no doubt Army, and specifically its seniors, will have Jankowski on their minds during this year’s League Tournament.
“We are a very, very close group,” Jankowski noted. “We are all very selfless and give anything for this team day in and day out. We rely on each other to get through everything. If I didn’t have them when I was going through my knee injury, it would’ve been a lot tougher.”
“You look at her and it gives you that determination to overcome whatever you’re dealing with because she has,” Goodall said of Jankowski.
“We draw our strength from her.”