Crowe enjoying fifth and final basketball season at St. Francis

Sidney Crowe wasn’t fully prepared to refer to her college basketball career in the past tense.

Provided an option for a fifth year of athletic eligibility, Crowe, a member of the St. Francis women’s team, seized it as if a loose ball in the waning stages of a close conference game.

“I was already staying at St. Francis another year to get my master’s degree in special education,” said the 5-foot-9 Crowe, a 2017 Whiteland graduate averaging 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds for the Cougars entering Friday’s home exhibition against Blackburn College (Illinois).

“I have two more semesters left after this one.”

Crowe has started every one of the games in her team’s 5-5 start this season, including a 73-70 victory at Goshen in which she contributed 18 points and four boards.

Valued as much for her leadership as anything she accomplishes statistically, Crowe is the unquestioned voice on a squad in which every one of her dozen teammates is an underclassman.

Junior forwards Cassidy Crawford and Maleah Kunkel pitch in in terms of leadership, a walk-through of sorts for the responsibilities they’ll help shoulder in 2022-23.

However, it’s Crowe, who turned 23 in August, currently at the forefront for the Cougars.

“I was ecstatic she was coming back,” seventh-year St. Francis coach Jason Ridge said. “We were going to have a really young team that needed leadership. And Sidney is so good at translating the terminology that we use in our program.

“We have three players who speak for our team, but Sidney is the face of our program.”

Presence aside, there’s an obvious sense of unfinished business for Crowe, who has played every position for St. Francis this season with the exception of center.

As a junior, Crowe played an integral role for the 2019-20 squad that was 23-7 and went to Sioux City, Iowa, to participate in the NAIA Division II National Tournament. Roughly five hours before the Cougars took the court for an opening-round game against Sterling College (Kansas), the remainder of the season was canceled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Crowe’s senior go-round was hampered when she suffered a torn left meniscus during a mid-January practice. The injury forced her to miss two games and ultimately return at what she called 65 to 70% effectiveness. The Cougars finished with a 14-12 record.

“The rest of the season, it was kind of a battle,” Crowe said. “I did physical therapy with the trainer at our school, and when we scrimmaged 5 on 5 in practice, it was here and there whether I would play the whole time. It really limited my ability to drive with the basketball and to get around people.”

Crowe underwent surgery to repair the tear in May; understandably, her comfort level is improving with every game this season. She produced a total of just 10 points in the first four games but has averaged 8.2 points the last six outings.

Some college athletes eventually regret returning for a fifth season, regardless of whether it was granted due to injury or COVID.

Crowe isn’t one of them.

“I am having fun. I do not regret coming back at all,” she said. “I enjoy helping our five freshmen learn what the program is about.”