The thunderous thud could be heard from the top bleacher of the gymnasium.

That was the sound of senior Andy Arena falling flat on his back after going up for a rebound during Stillwater High’s contest against Guthrie midway through last season. All of a sudden, the gym went completely silent.

Coaches, teammates and family ran onto the floor and came to a startling realization — Arena wasn’t moving.

“That was probably the most scary thing I’ve seen in my life,” Arena’s brother, SHS sophomore Frank Arena, said.

Andy added, “I was shocked, I didn’t know what to do. At first, I just tried to get up and when I couldn’t, I realized it was probably pretty serious.”

After 20 minutes, Andy left the floor but not on his own power — he was carried off on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. He suffered a lumbar vertebrae fracture in three places.

“I hadn’t seen anything like that before,” said SHS coach Michael Davis. “I’ve seen guys fall, but not that high.”

Pioneer senior Curtis Blankenship added, “It was like the heart of the whole team just stopped. Watching him being taken out on a stretcher was kind of a tough thing to see.”

Although Andy was fortunate to avoid damaging his spinal cord, he was still disheartened when he learned his injury would sideline him for the remainder of what turned into the Pioneers’ most successful season in four years, finishing 14-12 and advancing to the Class 6A Regional consolation final.

“It was really frustrating because of our success that year,” Andy said. “We got so far and I really wanted to be a part of it — knowing I couldn’t was hard.”

Andy’s determination was evident when he returned to the hardwood this past summer to improve his game.

The work is apparently paying off — he recorded his first varsity double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) during the Pioneers’ 72-53 season-opening loss at No. 9 Edmond Santa Fe on Tuesday night.

“(The fall) was a frightening experience for him,” Davis said. “At times, you could see him underneath the goal having that flashback — you could tell he was still a little timid. For the most part, I think he’s played himself back to where he was.

“We need him to do a lot of things for us. Andy’s probably going to have to guard the other team’s best players.”

The Pioneers host Sapulpa on Friday in their Centennial Conference opener, and for Arena, it will be his first chance to compete in front of a home crowd since the accident.

“He’s worked hard and I think he’s a better player than he was,” Blankenship said. “He’s going to be a great leader for us.”

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