‘We’re devastated’: What Alysha Clark’s injury means for her and for the Mystics

Clark will miss the 2021 WNBA season

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Just 57 days after the Washington Mystics signed free agent Alysha Clark, they announced that they would not have her this season after all. Clark suffered a Lisfranc injury to her right foot while playing for the French team LDLC ASVEL Féminin this offseason and will have surgery in the next few weeks that will rule her out for the 2021 WNBA season.

“There aren’t any simple words to express how badly we feel for Alysha,” Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault said in Monday’s announcement. “…She was a big piece of our off season planning and will be sorely missed. Throughout her rehab, Alysha will remain an integral part of our leadership group and her mentoring of our younger players will be crucial as we move ahead. We look forward to her coming back healthy and being a factor in our success for several years to come.”

In her nine-year WNBA career, Clark has averaged 6.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.4 assists while shooting 50.0% from the field and 39.8% from 3-point range. Last season, she won her second WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm while setting career highs in points (10.0), assists (2.7), and steals (1.5) per game; field goal percentage (55.8%); and 3-point shooting percentage (52.2%). The 5’11 forward was also a unanimous All-Defensive first team selection by the league’s coaches and ESPN’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Before her injury, Clark was putting up similar numbers in France as she did with Seattle in 2020, averaging 10.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.3 steals while shooting 46% from the field. However, Lisfranc injuries can be extremely serious and require months of recovery. According to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, they often occur when the foot is pointing downward and is either twisted or fallen on. These injuries damage the bones and/or ligaments in the middle of the foot, which is an area of the foot that helps athletes push off the ground in order to run and be explosive, and they can also impact athletes’ stability in the arch of their foot. 

Recovery times for Lisfranc injuries vary considerably, but Dr. Robert Anderson, an orthopedic surgeon and co-chairman of the NFL's Foot and Ankle Committee, estimated in 2013 that NFL players generally recover from Lisfranc surgery in five to six months, with the first three months spent on crutches and then in a walking boot. Even with a successful surgery, however, some athletes develop arthritis and require further treatment.

In 2019, a small study of both recreational and competitive athletes found that 80% of athletes were able to return to play after an average of about seven months, though two-thirds of those athletes had some lingering pain and some took as long as a year to return. On average, the athletes who returned to play reported that they were playing at about 87% of their pre-injury level. 

Clark gave fans some insight into her mindset as she prepares for surgery when she tweeted on Monday, “Look at struggles as opportunities to grow your character. Be willing to be bent in the midst of difficulties. Be willing to embrace the tension. Comeback starts now [praying emoji] [fingers crossed emoji].”

When healthy, Clark’s two-way presence seemingly makes her a perfect fit for a Mystics team that ranked first in the league in 3-pointers made and attempted in 2019 and, according to Thibault, has steadily worked over the past few seasons to develop a championship-level defense to match its offense. The 33-year-old Clark was also set to provide on-court leadership this season, which would have helped the team absorb losing veterans such as Kristi Toliver (free agency), LaToya Sanders (retirement), and Tianna Hawkins (free agency) in the past two offseasons.

“We're devastated because Alysha is a huge part of what we were going to do and what we are going to do in the future,” Mystics point guard Natasha Cloud told the media on Monday. “So it's a blow to our team for sure. But we'll find a way. But our job now is to support her through this comeback journey and making sure that we're there every step of the way with her rehab … She's gonna work her butt off to come back, and we're excited for when she does.”

Clark will be relegated to leading from the bench in 2021, not unlike the role Toliver played in 2019 when she missed the Mystics’ last 11 regular-season games with a knee injury. “[Clark is] still going to be a huge part of this journey this season, and being on the sideline, being in the locker room with her IQ, with her experience—I mean, she's phenomenal,” Cloud said.

Although no other Mystics player brings the same blend of skills and leadership as Clark, Thibault still has depth and numerous lineup combinations available. The Mystics can play bigger lineups with Elena Delle Donne, Myisha Hines-Allen, and Tina Charles for longer stretches, and forwards Theresa Plaisance and Erica McCall can provide different looks. Thibault can also use several three-guard lineups, especially if Clark can help develop second-year guards Kiara Leslie and Stella Johnson in her mold. Leslie and Johnson are both about the same size as Clark, were strong defensive players in college, and hit over 35% of their 3-pointers last season.

The announcement of Clark’s injury elicited get-well-soon wishes from around the league, including from the Storm and Connecticut Sun Twitter accounts and current and former players such as Danielle Robinson, Brittney Sykes, Swin Cash, and Ticha Penicheiro. One fan even tweeted, “A WNBA season without AC is like peanut butter without jelly. A little dry and unsatisfying, but feeds us nonetheless. Wishing for a speedy recovery, AC!”

The injury may indeed make the WNBA season a little gloomier, and it will make the Mystics’ championship aspirations more difficult. But Clark’s decade-long WNBA career has been defined by contributing whatever the team needs, reinventing herself from a two-time national scoring leader in college to one of the WNBA’s best defenders and someone who truly stuffs the stat sheet. It seems safe to bet on Clark again finding a way to contribute what the Mystics need this season, even though it won’t be her signature 3-point shots or defensive stops.