By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Meona Feather has been through a lot since the summer of 2016.
Last summer, she came home from a tumultuous first year at college, and she was questioning if she would ever play basketball again. She’d barely played competitive basketball in the last two years. The summer before her senior year at Rabun Gap, Feather, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, had torn her ACL in a scrimmage with Cherokee High School. That injury derailed the majority of her senior season, only playing in the last few games. Despite this, she was still able to earn a scholarship at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
There, her luck just got worse. Before she was able to step out for a game, she tore her meniscus. This forced her to have a second surgery in that short period, and it ended her playing career at Lynn.
“My second surgery was almost two years ago in December,” said Feather. “And, the doctor was like, ‘yeah, it’s a good thing you got surgery because you’re ACL was only hanging on by 20 percent,’”
“That second surgery, though, that one didn’t affect me as much because I just like ‘I’m not going to let it affect me or get me down.’ So, I just took that one day-by-day, and I decided I wasn’t going to play basketball again.”
While spending some time at home, she was finally able to breathe and relax for a time. She had long talks with her family and spent her days with her dad and sister, JaTanna. It had been a long time since she was able to do so.
“I hadn’t been home since I was like 11 years old. My mom left when I was 10, and I went out there and stayed with her for a couple of years. Then when I came back, I went to the boarding school (Rabun Gap), and I was there all throughout high school. I wasn’t home for more than a month for almost 10 years.”
When it came to playing ball, she was extremely conflicted. It was the game she loved, but the second surgery made her question her physical ability. She thought it would be for the best to focus on academics and give up that dream.
“It was hard. I’d been playing since I was four. So, it was really hard. But being home helped, being around my family. I think I needed it. I’m kind of glad I did it and took a year off and just hung out with JaTanna and my Dad, and seeing my other sister, Shennelle.”
Though she had made her mind up earlier that summer, Feather knew that she loved basketball too much not to give it another shot. She started sending out emails to different colleges she’d heard of or found interesting.
One that immediately stood out was Lake Forest College, a private Division III school that is situated just north of the heart of Chicago. Feather sent her email, and within 30 minutes, she was having a conversation with Head Coach Tamlyn Tills.
“It caught me off guard, but I liked it,” said Feather. “It gave me a feeling like when I was in high school, and college coaches were recruiting me. I was just like ‘wow.’”
Tills, who is now in her 13th season at Lake Forest, said that she could tell there was something special about Feather.
“I think very highly of her. She’s not only knowledgeable in basketball; she’s knowledgeable in life. She just has that calming effect on a lot of people that are around her.”
The two spoke on the phone for a while, and their relationship was already taking shape.
“We chatted for like a half-hour, and all of a sudden she goes, ‘you know, you know my sister.’ I go, I do?” said Tills.
Meona’s sister, Shennelle, lived in the Chicago area for several years. In her time there, she worked at an Egg Harbor Café. She often served Tills, and they had conversations about basketball and Meona.
“This was like seven or eight years ago, and I would go to breakfast there a lot, and I’d always have my basketball stuff on,” said Tills. “She would chat with me all the time. We were chatting, and she goes, ‘hey coach, you ought to recruit my sister.’”
At the time, Meona was just in eighth grade and was hoping to go to a Division I or II school. Still, Shennelle told Meona about Lake Forest and Coach Tills. So, when Meona was looking at Division III schools, Lake Forest was already on the shortlist.
Feather continued to survey her options for a while, but she already knew.
“I talked to her and a couple other coaches, but eventually I went with Coach Tills because of how she responded and how she was like, ‘I want you.’”
Feather arrived at Lake Forest this August and has spent her time adjusting to a new team and getting healthy. The latter has been an obvious challenge, as two knee surgeries can take a toll on any player. However, she is focused on taking that next step. Given that the season didn’t start until November, it gave Feather a couple of months to get to know the girls on the team and get her legs under her. She got to play with the team for about a month before practice started, and they had a couple of official scrimmages before their first game.
“Even in those scrimmages, I was so nervous. It was almost like I was an eighth-grader again playing for my high school team. It felt like the first time I was playing basketball, honestly. But, it was a good feeling as well because I thought I wasn’t ever going to play organized basketball again.”
The Foresters opened their season on Nov. 8, and Feather immediately made her presence known. She led the team in scoring against MSOE with 17 points in just 20 minutes of action. She filled the box score as well, adding 6 assists and 5 rebounds.
She followed that up with 10 points in just 14 minutes in a blowout win over Marian. This is where it gets difficult, though. After two solid outings, Feather has had to sit out for rest. Because of her knee surgeries and lack of game time, she needs to build up the muscles in her legs as well, specifically her quad and hamstring.
Feather says that it’s a day-by-day process.
“At first, it was really, really hard because I just wanted to go. But now, I’m used to sitting out. I kind of did this one myself…I told her (Coach Tills) that I want to sit out because I want to be healthy. Because I haven’t been healthy in so long,” said Feather.
She says that one of the strongest supports through the transition has been Coach Tills.
“Her energy is the same all day long, and it’s crazy. If I had her energy, I don’t know. But, she’s helped a lot. Especially with keeping me positive about my knee,” said Feather.
“I didn’t know this growing up when I was younger, but honestly, I think that’s the most important relationship to have in a team is the coach-player relationship. It’s just that sense of trust between the two.”
Delany Sjong, Feather’s teammate and a fellow transfer to Lake Forest, has also been a big help throughout the process. They spend a lot of time together away from practice, and she says they have pushed each other since arriving at Lake Forest.
“She works so hard for our team, and she wants to win so bad, which is so nice on the floor. She’s also just such an understanding person, and such a good listener off the floor when anything’s going on.”
Feather says that she has one primary objective.
“Right now, I just want to get better. I still have a long way to go. I’m still not where I want to be. So, I’m just going every day trying to get better, learning. I think it’s just my timing isn’t there yet.”
However, this doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have high expectations for herself and her team. She says that it’s going to be a significant challenge, but she wants to take home the conference title. And while she says team success is first, she has hopes for herself as well.
“I know it’s a stretch, but I think I can do it. I kind of what to be Newcomer of the Year in our conference. Which is like player of the year for the new people. So yeah, that’s my ultimate goal, but I’m going to have to work real hard to do that one.”
Coach Tills is even more confident in Feather’s ability. She says that the most important thing is to focus on her health, but if they can accomplish that, all bets are off.
“Honestly, I’ve been here for 13 years, and she will probably be one of the best ballplayers to ever come out of Lake Forest. I suspect if she can stay healthy, she’ll be All-Conference. She’ll probably get Newcomer of the Year if she can stay healthy.”
Tills says that Feather brings a lot to the team. She can play multiple positions, handle the ball, and is a good shooter. But, she says her most significant asset is something that doesn’t show up on the box score.
“She brings so much. She has that natural ability to have a calming effect because she sees the floor really well. She understands where the ball needs to go and when, and how to set that up. That’s an intangible thing that I can’t teach; it’s a natural thing,” said Tills.
“She gets it. That’s my favorite thing. She’s like a sponge. She’s just one of those kids that you just look at her, and she knows what it is she should be doing, and she does it. And she does it well.”
Meona Feather almost gave up basketball; she was convinced of it just last year. She says that the process was one of the most challenging times of her life, and now that she’s back to playing, she doesn’t want to look back.
“I didn’t even realize how therapeutic it was for me until I tore my ACL. My first ACL, oh, it messed with me a lot. And because I couldn’t go play basketball, and I had to just lay in bed, or I had to just chill and not do anything really, it was hard. But now, the fact that I can just get up and go to the gym. Or I have practice every day, I have a game day. I’m working for a game day. It’s very therapeutic for me. It’s almost my get away from everything that’s happening. I’m just thankful that I can do it again.”