A little over a year ago, Alayna Gribble thought her basketball career was over.
The former Norwin star, playing for the Pitt women’s basketball team, had suffered her third concussion in two years earlier in the 2018-19 season. On Jan. 18, the team announced that Gribble would take a medical disqualification and retire from basketball.
Now, she’s preparing to get back onto the court.
Gribble will transfer to St. Joe’s for her senior season this fall, resuming her once-promising basketball career. Gribble came to Pitt after being nominated as a McDonald’s All-American and leading Norwin to back-to-back WPIAL Class-4A titles.
In just over two seasons at Pitt, she shot 34% from 3-point range and averaged 7.1 points per game. But her third concussion, in late 2018, ended things for Gribble at Pitt.
“After the third one, the Pitt medical staff and coach [Lance] White thought it would be the best option for me to be medically disqualified,” Gribble told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “At the end of the day, it was ultimately their decision. I didn’t really have a say in it and at the time I was still having headaches junior year and I was like, okay, maybe this is for the best.”
But after some time to heal, the draw of Gribble’s life-long passion was too strong for her to ignore.
“I was feeling really good in this past summer,” Gribble said. “Then I went to see my UPMC concussion doctor, Dr. French, in August of this year, and he cleared me. … I wanted to make sure I felt good. So that’s why I’ve been working out since like September. I was kind of like was thinking, in my head that I wanted to play but I wanted to make sure I was healthy.
“I’ve been playing pickup, basketball workouts, conditioning, lifting and I have had no issues. I’ve been feeling great. No headaches. For me that’s just the reassurance that I needed that I personally felt good. I knew that I’d be able to come back to college basketball and play again.”
NCAA rules prevent Gribble from returning to Pitt after being medically disqualified, so she entered the transfer portal and fairly quickly found a new home across the state at St. Joe’s.
“The craziest thing is, I have not been on a visit to St. Joe’s,” Gribble said. “But the one coach [Melissa Dunne] recruited me heavily out of high school when she was at a different university, and I visited that university. So, I met her before and we had that relationship. And then obviously, I’ve met the other staff. We did a bunch of Zoom calls and like FaceTimes and talked on the phone and the you know, the whole situation with the coronavirus just kind of prohibited me from visiting the school. …
“So, I kind of just use my best judgment and where I thought I would fit as a player as a person, and I think I had a really good connection with the coaching staff.”
The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t just altered Gribble’s plans to take official visits. With Pitt transitioning to online education, she’s back at home in Irwin with her family and not able to utilize the Pitt student workout facilities. At least, in two younger sisters that play basketball, she has some quarantine sparring partners. The middle Gribble, Olivia, is a Norwin senior that has committed to play college basketball at Division III Marietta.
”I have another sister, she’s in sixth grade,” Alayna Gribble added. “So we’ve been playing 2-on-1, my two sisters against me. It’s given me some good practice on the double team.”
Gribble is making the best of what has been a trying experience for everyone. That’s not a new experience for her. Though her career at Pitt did not take the trajectory that she initially hoped it would, it has given her plenty of perspective on the value of adversity.
“Everybody has that and once you experienced like college basketball and life even, you know you just you never know like one minute you could be happy the next you’re not,” she said.
“[For me], it was a coaching change and then was dealing with injuries and concussions and things like that. I think it’s really helped me grow as a person. Just being given this opportunity to play again, I feel like I’m going to use those past experiences and learn from those and continually work towards being a better version of myself at St. Joe’s.”