Shaq is back.
West Valley four-year basketball standout Shaniqua Nilles, warmly nicknamed Shaq, returned from a bout with mononucleosis last week. Nilles and sophomore starter Aaliyah Ashley-Meek, who also came down with the illness at the same time, both missed seven games.
The Eagles went from a 2-0 start in league to going 3-3 without the pair. With Nilles and Ashley-Meek back last weekend, WV defeated Cheney (59-45) and East Valley (55-27), reversing a loss the Eagles suffered in the players’ absence.
WV concludes regular- season play tonight at home against Pullman in a key Great Northern League game for seeding to the district tourney.
Nilles and Ashley-Meek played limited minutes last weekend. They played about 16 minutes against Cheney and 18 against EV. Nilles had 18 points to lead all scorers against Cheney and followed up with 11 against EV.
“We were hoping to have them ready for the (district) tournament,” WV coach Lorin Carlon said. “It just shows that kids are resilient. Having them back is a big-time lift for us.”
Nilles, a 6-foot forward who has signed with Gonzaga University, said she and Ashley-Meek may have contracted the illness in late December at a tournament. A player from another team also came down with mono.
“I was getting really tired and run down,” Nilles said. “I’m not a nap person, but it seemed like every day after school I’d come home and crash before I’d leave for practice.”
She experienced a runny nose that she thought was a cold at first. Then she thought it was the flu. Finally her throat swelled up.
“My parents were praying for me to have strep,” Nilles said. “When I found out it was mono I was pretty devastated. When I went to the (emergency room) they told me my spleen was so enlarged I’d be out until the middle of February. That freaked me out.”
Nilles stayed home from school for a week, taking steady doses of medication and fluids.
“We were taking it slowly,” she said. “I didn’t want a relapse.”
Nilles and Ashley-Meek returned to practice last Thursday before playing Friday. They wore extra padding around their stomachs for added safety.
“I actually felt pretty good,” Nilles said. “I was definitely a little weaker than before I got mono. After a couple of trips up and down the floor, I was sucking for air. It felt like it was preseason again and practice had just started. After I got a second wind, I felt pretty good and at home where I belong.”
“They both played pretty well for what they had been through,” Carlon said.
Now Shaq and the Eagles want to get back to state and take care of some unfinished business. First, though, is the difficult task of getting out of district. League champ Clarkston and Pullman stand in the way. Only two advance to the subregional where the GNL survivors will likely meet up with top-ranked Prosser.
WV placed third at state the last two years. WV had a state title on its mind last year.
“Our ultimate goal is to win a state championship,” Nilles said. “We have our work cut out for us. It’s definitely going to be difficult to get to state this year.”
Nilles said the Eagles were playing better than any time a year ago when she and Ashley-Meek got sick. She hopes the Eagles return to that level next week at district.
“It was hurtful that I got taken out by an illness that I couldn’t control,” Nilles said. “I’m just thankful to be back with my team.”