Bob Simeone describes himself as a tough, hard nosed coach.
Yet when the North Kingstown girls basketball coach talked about honoring one of his players recently on Senior Night, his voice began to tremble. He paused and took a deep breath.
“I’m not usually this emotional,” said Simeone, who has been the NK coach for more than a dozen years and recently captured his 200th win. “Alexa earned it (captain). She’s been through a lot.”
You won’t see Alexa Hanrahan’s name in headlines, listed in the starting line up or on the All-State team. She has no plans to play after high school. A role player, Hanrahan is the smallest player on the team – but just might have the biggest heart.
“Alexa contributes mentally, emotionally and socially. She is a leader. She does it all,” said Simeone. “She knows she is not a superstar, but in my eyes she’s a superstar because she does more than superstars.”
A two-sport athlete who also plays lacrosse, Hanrahan knew her role with the team early on.
“She told me right away, “I’m not the best player. I am not going to start or even be your sixth or seventh player, but I can play a role and I accept my role,” said Simeone.
This year, she was forced to take on a different role. While her team built an impressive 17-1 record, Hanrahan watched from the bench.
For almost a year, she was sidelined with a rare, complex shoulder injury – one that would end the career of most athletes. Hanrahan never called it quits.
It started last January, in the midst of NK’s unbeaten regular season- Hanrahan’s range of motion became limited. She felt discomfort in her shoulder. Something wasn’t quite right.
“It was sort of a weird feeling at first and it was visible,” she said. “My shoulder was shifting in my back. The muscles couldn’t hold it down.”
After weeks of working with trainer Shawn Petrucci, there was no progress. In fact, her shoulder worsened. The doctors at University Orthopedics had no answers for her rare shoulder injury and sent Hanrahan to Boston to see Dr. Bassem Eihassan, a world-renowned shoulder surgeon who performs complex surgeries. Hanrhan would need a rare surgery only performed a handful of times.
She had surgery late July, spent 10 weeks in sling and underwent extensive rehab.
“Recovery was harder than I thought,” said Hanrahan. “I expected it to be painful, but didn’t expect it to be that difficult. I had a lot of trouble sleeping. It was so uncomfortable. I had to sleep upright 90 degrees.”
The recovery process was painfully slow. Hanrahan was often discouraged, which was masked by her desire to contribute to her team. Although she wasn’t able to play, she showed up at NK’s summer league every day, offering to help her coach with whatever was needed.
“She used to help me with the summer league. She showed up early and helped set up the gym. She was at every summer league practice and game knowing she couldn’t play,” said Simeone, his voice filled with emotion.”
Hanrahan wasn’t cleared to play at the start of the basketball season and spent the majority of this season on the bench.
“I was at practice every single day. It was hard, watching from a different view. I bonded with my teammate Maddison Krug, who had had ankle surgery. We did PT together and made good use of time together and started to slowly build back,” said Hanrahan. “Coach Bob assured me that I was putting in the work. So that was reassuring.”
“It breaks my heart to see a player on the bench,” said Simeone. “Alexa didn’t miss one practice. She always helped me out. She didn’t want me to take away from practice time like she gave out the uniforms. She did all the little helpful things. The young kids looked up to her.”
Simeone said Hanrahan took on an important leadership role and would often resolve conflict so it didn’t spill onto the court and disrupt the special season.
“Whatever was needed, she offered to help,” said Simeone.
By mid-January she was cleared to play. On Senior Night- Simeone named Hanrahan captain. The coach made the announcement in the locker room before the start of the game. He broke down as he recalled the moment.
“I said ‘you’ve been there for this team all year. You deserve this. You deserve it more than anyone. You’ve battled back from an injury. Most kids would have called it quits and said there’s no way I can come back from that surgery and play again,” Simeone said. “Most kids would have never come back.”
“She earned it (captain). I could have named her captain at the start of the season, but I felt giving it to her Senior Night knowing she was fighting her way back would mean more to her,” said Simeone, choking back tears.
Petrucci is thrilled to see her being rewarded for all her hard work.
“Alexa is driven and dedicated to everything she does,” said Petrucci. “She’s just overcome so much. To see her be able to go out on the court, even for a few minutes, it’s nice to see,” said Petrucci.
Hanrahan said she’s just grateful to be playing again – regardless of what her role is or how many minutes she plays.
“I’m happy to have whatever role I am given. I don’t take anything for granted now,” said Hanrahan. “Just to be part of the team means so much to me.”
With a near perfect record heading into the playoffs, NK’s goal is to win the state championship – a title that eluded the team last year. And whatever her role is, she’ll accept it and be ready to go.
”Alexa will get whatever we give her. She doesn’t care about minutes,” said Simeone. “She’s that type of kid. She’s a senior leader. The kids love her. She’s a very, very wonderful kid.”