Iowa women's basketball: Inside Tania Davis' grueling trek back from a second ACL tear

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central
Iowa guard Tania Davis (11) poses for a portrait during Hawkeye women's basketball media day on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — A draining trek full of pain, doubt, perseverance and strength has reached its final leg. Tania Davis has a story to tell.

“It’s been a journey,” she said. “That’s for sure.”

Athletes know the drill when it comes to potential injuries amid competition, but Iowa’s senior point guard has gotten a raw deal. ACL tears in back-to-back seasons have ripped away solid chunks of Davis’ Hawkeye tenure, forcing her to remain strong throughout months of strenuous rehab. Days got long and tiresome in a hurry.

Davis, though, is still standing. All signs point to her being in the starting lineup Friday, when the No. 17 Hawkeyes open a much-anticipated season against Oral Roberts at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“I would never wish that upon any athlete to have back-to-back ACL tears like Tania's had. It's so much to endure,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “When you're taking away the thing that you love — the thing that you came to Iowa to do, to play on this team — that's really hard to handle, not only physically rehabbing that ACL tear, but mentally as well. Not really being a part of the team on the court, I think that's really difficult. It is kind of a part of their identity, and that's taken away.

“I respect Tania so much because she's been able to keep a positive attitude. We petitioned to try to get her another year, and that fell through. For her to be able to stay positive and stay engaged with this team — I think has really been challenging — and she's met that challenge head on.”

Almost a year has passed since Davis lay crumpled on the McLeod Center court last December, her right ACL shredded just 10 months after her left suffered the same fate. Between then and now, every emotion has been covered.

Darkness took center stage in the injury’s immediate aftermath, as Davis readied for the grueling familiarity ahead. Going through ACL recovery for a second time eliminated many of the unknowns, but that did little to alleviate the questioning.

“The darkest times for me were going through the games right after (the second ACL tear),” Davis said, “just because I had envisioned myself playing a huge role on this team last year. And obviously, I couldn’t do that. I had to play a huge role from the bench instead of in a uniform, and that’s not what I wanted to do.

“There were a lot of times also where I just did not have an appetite. I didn’t want to be around people, didn’t want to talk to people. But I think everyone did a great job of controlling me and keeping me level-headed.”         

Teammates, coaches, family and friends all pitched in to aid the recovery. Among the biggest influences was teammate, roommate and best friend Alexis Sevillian, who got an up-close view at Davis’ journey back.

“It impresses me how she’s pushed through everything and has managed to have a positive attitude and outlook on everything,” Sevillian said. “Besides freshman year, the kid has not played a full season without an injury. I feel like many people would stop after both knees and call it a day.

“She hasn’t done that. She’s pushed herself to the max every day, whether that’s weights, in practice and even rehab. She hasn’t quit, and honestly, I feel like this is her season. It’s her last and she’s going to make the best of it.”

The hype surrounding the year ahead fueled the most strenuous days. Davis said she fully flipped to the future after Iowa’s NCAA Tournament loss to Creighton, a game in which the Hawkeyes could’ve used their sharpshooting guard.

Davis’ offseason narrative leaned on patience. With all but one significant contributor back this season, Iowa stressed it didn’t need to rush a return, instead letting Davis’ body dictate her workload. She didn’t participate in much until practice officially started Oct. 1.

That approach proved beneficial, especially considering what’s recently unfolded with this Hawkeye bunch. Kathleen Doyle’s freak hand fracture in practice last week has her sidelined for four to six weeks, accentuating the need for a full-fledged Davis bounce back.

Tuesday was a good sign. Iowa’s 5-foot-3 senior started and played 25 minutes in the Hawkeyes’ exhibition win over Dakota Wesleyan. Davis was 0-for-3 shooting and admitted to some late-game fatigue, but her re-insertion should help mask Doyle’s absence.

Iowa guard Tania Davis (11) looks to pass during a women's basketball exhibition basketball game on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

Had Davis and the Hawkeyes pushed the pace too hard this summer, maybe there’s a setback. Maybe she isn’t ready for a few more weeks. Maybe Iowa is down two point guards to start the year.

“It’s really great to see Tania coming back and see her back in action,” fellow senior Megan Gustafson said. “We really missed that leadership from her last year, especially on the court with that calm presence that she has.”

If anyone deserves a healthy, dominant senior year on a team with lofty March Madness expectations, it’s Davis. But life and sports don’t always deliver the feel-good chapter. Davis knows that better than anyone.

She’s content with however things unfold, having significantly matured through two adversity-filled seasons.

This is Davis’ story, for better or worse.

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.