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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Back on Her Feet

Wiggins Finds Herself in Ventura After Car Accident

March 03, 2000|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — Valerie Wiggins remembers feeling like a rag in a clothes dryer.

One minute she's driving her Mazda on a Palmdale street and the next she's hanging on for life in the tumbling car.

There's not much else Wiggins recalls about that horrific evening in May three years ago, and maybe it's better that way.

But Wiggins knows she's lucky to be alive, never mind playing basketball at Ventura College.

"I'm just now starting to get back in full swing," Wiggins said.

Wiggins, a 5-foot-11 sophomore guard from Canyon High, has recovered nicely. Although she is a reserve after starting last season, Wiggins is Ventura's captain, the unassuming but unmistaken leader of a formidable cast.

The Pirates (34-0), ranked No. 1 in the state, are within one victory of reaching the state championships for the sixth consecutive time.

All they need is to get past No. 24-seeded Cypress (12-19) on Friday in the third round of the Southern California Regional to reach the Final Eight on March 9-11 in Stockton.

Wiggins, who averages only 5.3 points and 2.1 rebounds, is a major contributor in other ways.

"One of the reasons for our success is how she handled going from a starter to coming off the bench," Coach Ned Mircetic said. "She handled it professionally and the other kids have learned a lesson from that.

"Her attitude to make us a better team when things weren't going well for her, that's made her our leader. . . . She has seen her mortality, so she's far ahead of her peers in that sense."

Wiggins claims she got that dubious advantage because of a friend's foolish behavior.

While driving with three teammates to a club team practice in 1997, Wiggins said she lost control of the car when one of the girls pulled the steering wheel, making the car roll over six times.

"I yelled at her and then realized we were not staying on the road," Wiggins said. "I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe this is happening.' I was unconscious from six that evening to two in the morning."

Rescue workers used the jaws of life to pull Wiggins from the wreck and airlifted her to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills.

Injury toll to Wiggins: A compound fracture of her left arm, a broken left thumb and rib, a punctured lung and a damaged cornea in each eye from shattered glass and spilled car fluids.

The injury toll to her friends: One broken wrist.

Wiggins' parents were home in Canyon Country when the phone rang.

"They called me from the site," Jackie Wiggins said. "I asked them, 'Is she conscious?' They said no. That was a long ride to the hospital."

And an unsettling encounter when they got there. The first person her parents saw at the hospital, Wiggins said, was a priest.

Wiggins had a plate screwed into her arm to repair the bone and spent two weeks in the hospital, missing her senior prom and barely making it to graduation in June.

"I couldn't open my eyes for a week," said Wiggins, who now lives in Fillmore. "I was unfunctional for at least a month."

For an athlete like Wiggins, a Times' All-Valley second-team selection her senior season at Canyon, the inactivity was frustrating. And the uncertainty about her future, with or without basketball, was disheartening.

By the fall, Wiggins was roaring back. She was a redshirt at Ventura in 1997-98 and started last season on a team that came within three points of winning the state title.

"It was a big mountain she had to climb and she's still climbing it," Mircetic said.

Wiggins said she gained perspective from the accident and appreciation for her mother's wisdom.

"When I was about to turn 16, I said to my mom I wanted a [sports utility vehicle] and she said no because they flip over too easy," Wiggins said. "I said, 'Mom, I'm not going to flip my car.' I'm so glad I listened to her."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA REGIONAL

Ventura (34-0)

vs.

Cypress (12-19)

What: Third-round women's playoff game

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Ventura College

Final Eight is March 9-11 in Stockton

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