Lala Guimares trek to college ball stalled by five knee tears

Lala Guimaraes was joined by mom Annacaroline Guimaraes, brother Lucca, and dad Ronei Santos when she celebrated her decision to play basketball at Manhattanville College.

Lala Guimaraes was joined by mom Annacaroline Guimaraes, brother Lucca, and dad Ronei Santos when she celebrated her decision to play basketball at Manhattanville College.

Shelton High Athletics / Contributed photo

Shelton senior Lala Guimaraes will play next season for the women’s basketball team at Manhattanville College.

Her story is one of resolve.

“I started playing basketball in eighth grade. I went to Notre Dame Catholic High in Fairfield. At the end of my freshman year, I went to block a shot in the second round of states against St. Joseph. On landing, my right knee popped out. I had torn my ACL, MCL, PCL, both of my meniscus. I had to have two reconstruction transplants,” Guimaraes said. “Feb. 28, 2019. That date is engraved in my mind.”

Future athletic options were limited. Returning to the court wouldn’t be safe. Guimaraes scheduled physical therapy. COVID hit. For two years, she sat and played a different game called ‘what if?’

“I don’t think there is a word out there to describe how hard it was,” said the 6-foot-1 center/power forward. “For a long period of time, I blamed myself. I’d been told I didn’t need to go for that block. They said I should just let it go. I started to ask myself: ‘Why did I keep running? Why try to catch the girl and block the shot?’”

The determination that drove Guimaraes to go for that block, to defy the odds and stop a breakaway basket is the mindset that fueled her return to the court.

“We relocated to Shelton. By the grace of God, I decided to try out for the basketball team,” she said. “I wasn’t cleared yet to play, so I asked Coach (John) Danielski if I could be the team manager.”

Two weeks went by. Guimaraes went for a follow up with her doctor. She received a late Christmas present on Jan. 25, 2021.

“He told me if I was ready, I could risk playing,” she said. “I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a gift I had asked for a long time.”

Guimaraes was back.

She said: “Obviously, it was scary plus it was in a new environment. Coach Danielski and the team were so open in welcoming me. I felt at home. I thank them so much. I came in as an outsider and it meant everything to me being accepted as one of Shelton’s own.”

Guimaraes poured in 14 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked three shots on average.

“I played AAU travel basketball (CT Supreme Elite) with my coach Kwame Burwell after my junior year,” she said after putting up eight points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks a game. “That is the last chance for college coaches to see you in the girls’ basketball world. That summer, Coach Danielski had a girls basketball camp in Shelton. He told me Manhattanville College was interested. They had asked if he could send them my email and number. I said, ‘Let’s do it.’

Joining Manhattanville, a Division III team in the Skyline Conference was an easy sell.

“Coach (Kate) Vlahakis got on the phone with me. We emailed. We connected immediately. I could see myself playing there,” Guimaraes said. “I made my unofficial visit on Aug. 4. I fell in love with the campus, the vibe. I knew then, but Coach Vlahakis told me to take time and weigh my options before making my decision. My official visit was Sept 15. From there I just knew. I’m going to major in criminal justice. My dream is to take the law enforcement route and join the FBI.

“The incoming class of freshman I think is really, good. I’m looking forward to playing with them and for Coach Vlahakis. She is super inspiring with her players. I’ll work every day. Go to the gym, get on the court. College workouts begin in August.

“I thank Coach Danielski all the time,” Guimaraes added. “He went there, he had a connection and because of him I’m going to Manhattanville. Last year he was the new coach; I was the new player. We had a special connection going into senior year. On Senior Night, I gave him a huge hug and probably cried on his shirt.”

Guimaraes has a game plan to play at the next level.

“Rebounding is my strength. It’s not only boxing out but going to the rim to get the ball. I’ve been told I’m fast for a big girl or run the court well for a big girl. I don’t like that because it excludes “big girls” from the picture,” she said. “From getting cleared from my injury to this senior season I’ve lost more than 60 pounds. I think for a “big girl” I don’t get tired. I run the court. What I want to work on is patience. Sometimes I rush when I get the ball down low. I need to go to the basket. More strength, less finesse.”

Senior year

“Unfortunately, COVID and injuries took out our senior season. We went through a rough ride (4-16 record). I played our first game, then sprained my left ankle the next game. A week later I got COVID,” Guimaraes said. “The week I came back, another player sprained an ankle, another hurt her knee. The return to play protocol took us out. Once you had COVID, you had seven days out and then wait 10 days to return.

“I knew we had lost some great players to graduation. I wanted to help everyone. I put it on my back. If I wasn’t giving it my all, then I wasn’t giving anything at all. That is how I’ve been raised. If there is a block you can get to, a pass you can steal, you have got to go for it.”

Another Charlie Brown fist-shaking at the sky moment for Guimaraes came the day she was cleared to return from COVID.

“I did my 17 days. The next day the CIAC changes the mandate to just the seven days. You can’t get upset.,” she said. “I guess things happen for a reason. I’m not proud of our record. I try not to think about it. I know that we put our heart on the court, every practice, every game. I did my part; I gave my best.”

Family affair

“My mom and dad have been with me every step of the way. Through the surgery, the physical therapy, the changing of schools. I couldn’t have done anything I have been able to achieve without them,” Guimaraes said. “Manhattanville is 45 minutes away. It is close to home for my family, which is great. Still, I laughed and told them we won’t run into each other at the grocery store.

“My little brother Lucca is just turning nine. He is one of my favorite people on this earth. He is amazing. Right now, he is trying to do everything at once. Lucca’s a big soccer guy. I want him to get into football. He’s still eight and like 5-2. Come on, put pads on you’ll be a great o-lineman. He does karate like I did. That’s where I began athletics (black belt). It is great for agility, balance.”

What’s in a name

Laryssa, which means cheerful, or lighthearted, is her given name.

“I’ve been called Lala probably since the day I was born. It’s easier and I like it. The only time I get called Laryssa is when I’m in trouble,” Guimaraes said. “Lala is easy to remember. It is fun. It is a name you probably won’t forget. As a player, a student, a friend, I want to be someone people will remember. Lala did this or said that. I want to have an impact.”

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354