Women’s basketball’s beating heart returns with a flourish

Serena Tchida rejuvenates her Stingers team following unfortunate injury

Serena Tchida attempts a field goal. Photo Alice Martin

Nobody thought that one of the most impactful moments of the 2022-23 Concordia Stingers women’s basketball season would come in a blowout loss visiting the Laval Rouge et Or in January.

Trailing 60-43 late in the third quarter, Stingers forward Serena Tchida received a pass in tight, and started driving to the rim. She suddenly fell down. She heard a whistle and assumed it was the official calling a foul, feeling as if somebody hit her in the back of the leg—but no one had. Her teammates looked at her, confused as to why she fell so violently. After feeling around behind both of her legs, only two words went through Tchida’s mind: “Oh shit.”

“[In] the moment, I was shocked that it happened to me. I was like, ‘It can’t be real,’ but at the same time, I knew what it was,” Tchida said.

Tchida missed the entire second half of the 2022-23 season with a torn Achilles in her left leg. 

Averaging just over 29 minutes per game in her second year of eligibility, she was the Stingers’ second-best scorer at 14 points per game. She finished the season as the team’s third-best rebounder with 68 boards, despite missing the final eight games. Her incredible breakout season saw an early, uncomfortable end.

“She was just having fun with it and starting to really come into her own,” said head coach Tenicha Gittens.

But Gittens runs a tight ship. She could not let Tchida spend too much time dwelling on her injury. “As soon as we [went] into the locker room after the game, I said, ‘Okay, you have 24 hours to cry, and then you’ve got to work for your comeback,’” Gittens said.

Tchida took that message to heart. The list of steps she took to make it back to the court was endless: physiotherapy several times a week, workouts, watching what she ate; re-learning how to walk, jog, jump and sprint.

But Tchida’s biggest obstacle during her rehab was the mental aspect of her recovery. As someone who prides herself on independence, she hated needing help from other people.

“Having a handicap, not being able to take your own shower, not being able to cook your own meals because you have crutches, waking up and being hurt and being tired […] it was hard mentally,” she said.

But, to no one’s surprise, the Stingers’ rebound machine could additionally rebound from her injury with flying colours. Her surgery in January 2023 was supposed to keep her off the court until January 2024, meaning she was slated to miss the entire first half of the 2023-24 season. Yet, she returned to practice in October and has appeared in every game this season, although she is not back to 100 per cent just yet. She still does physiotherapy and listens to her body to ensure that she does not push too hard.

Tchida put in countless hours of effort to work towards her recovery, but she credits her coaches and teammates for her early return, most notably player development coach Shawn Browne.

“He’s like a dad to me,” Tchida said about Browne. “He helped me [with] groceries, coming back home, taking the garbage out. He was my lift to come back to school. He was my mental support.”

The impact that the rest of her teammates and coaching staff had on her recovery is not lost on her, either. She gave a load of credit to Gittens for driving her from Quebec City back to Montreal in a snowstorm to get her to the hospital. Athletic therapist Inderpreet Khela also holds a special place in Tchida’s heart for her ongoing contribution to her recovery, and Tchida could not be happier being back on the court.

“It’s just great being back,” said Tchida, smiling. “I feel more present. I feel more in the moment. I feel more in shape. I’m not there yet cardio-wise, but physically, I’m [stronger] and more powerful.”

She has been on minute restriction this season, only playing 11 minutes in the season opener, and just over 20 in every game since. Her playing time will likely stagnate until after the winter break, when she is scheduled to complete her rehab.

But despite limited playing time, Tchida is still putting up monster numbers. Through five games, she is the team’s leading scorer at 14.2 points per game, and she is tied for the team lead in rebounds with 25. To boot, she is accomplishing this while playing 20 minutes per game, just half of regulation time. She is a big contributor to the Stingers’ 3-2 start to the season.

“Just seeing [her rehab] every day, I’m not surprised, with her early return, [and]  just how successful she’s been since coming back,” said fifth-year Stinger and teammate Areej Burgonio. 

Tchida is in her third year of eligibility, but it’s actually her fifth year with the Stingers. She joined the team in 2019-20, but her eligibility was extended by two years, since she spent her entire first season in rehab for a torn ACL that she suffered in CEGEP, and her second season was cancelled due to the pandemic. She and Burgonio have been teammates for four years, going on five. Gittens said that Tchida is the most senior player on the team after Burgonio and Gretta-Olivia Ineza, another fifth-year player.

All of Tchida’s teammates hold her in very high regard. Throughout her career with the Stingers, she has evolved into a team leader more and more every season.

“She’s kind of like our mom or our big sister,” chuckled Burgonio. “She’s very responsible. She definitely shows that older sibling, eldest sister tendency, always looking out for others. She’s very selfless. Whenever we have a problem, we look to her.”

But Tchida’s impact on her teammates is not only felt off the court. Burgonio believes that the team behaves completely differently in-game when Tchida is available versus when she is out with an injury.

“With her, we’re more on point. She holds us accountable, but most importantly, she holds herself accountable,” said Burgonio. “That, to me, is showing that she’s a leader.”

Tchida’s list of admirers is a long one, and it does not end with her teammates. Even Gittens—who is already known for her powerful leadership behind the bench—can’t help but take a page out of Tchida’s book.

“When I tell you that kid is relentless; she’s one of the most relentless people I’ve ever been around. I learned a lot from her, too,” said Gittens. “She’s somebody that everybody looks up to and listens to. She’s our leader in the locker room, not just on the floor.”

Everyone in the Stingers locker room is proud to see Tchida’s triumphant return to the floor. As for Tchida herself, she is committed to helping the Stingers continue their hot start, and she hopes that her recovery will be a positive message to her teammates.

“I hope it inspires them to never give up and keep working hard,” she said.

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 7, published November 28, 2023.