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By Shane Hoffmann 

Central Catholic girls basketball coach Sandy Dickerson isn’t asking much of guard Jayda Jackson this postseason. 

Dickerson wants Jackson to recognize the small victories and not beat herself up over the pesky mistakes. The mishaps are going to happen, after all. It's no fault of her own, but Jackson’s a bit rusty. 

Now a junior, Jackson didn’t grace the court for the Rams this season until their 44-26 win over Gresham five games ago. Her near-season-long absence was the product of an onslaught of right knee injuries which have consumed roughly three-and-a-half years of her career. 

So, yes, Dickerson’s goal really is that simple. As Central Catholic (11-13) prepares for a first-round matchup at Beaverton (17-8) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night, she just wants Jackson to soak it up. 

“My biggest thing, since she’s so hard on herself, is I want her to have fun,” Dickerson said. “She finally gets to be out there playing the game that she loves. … She's frustrated because she thinks she should be doing better. It's like, ‘You haven't played in three years, Jayda! You're OK. Just take your time.’”

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Central Catholic is a steep underdog entering its first-round matchup. The young Rams have dealt with a myriad of injuries and it’s taken some time for the chemistry they’ve been honing to shine through. 

But as focus shifts this week to big-picture outcomes — all-league teams, player of the year honors, the forecasting of title favorites — it’s important that stories like Jackson’s don’t get lost in the margins.


The call came late in the afternoon Feb. 10. It was Jackson’s physical therapist carrying good news: She was officially cleared to play. She could suit up as soon as the team's game against Gresham that evening, if she so chose.

Jackson was surrounded by teammates when she answered the phone. She was overjoyed, even crying tears of happiness. 

“I never really thought the day would come,” she said. “It was probably one of the best feelings ever.” 

Jackson opted to play — harboring a minutes restriction that she’d bear for several games as she got up to speed – and while a bundle of nerves churned through her body, her gratefulness for the moment trumped all.

“It wasn't really about how I played,” she said. “It was just the fact that I was able to be out there.”

It was those little victories, just like Dickerson said. 

Jackson’s harrowing medical journey began in seventh grade. She tore her ACL and meniscus, sidelining her for nearly 18 months post-surgery. She returned in time for her freshman season of basketball and even played hero at times, but disaster again struck soon after. 

Jayda Jackson Central Catholic Dave Ball

The summer following her freshman year, she re-tore her meniscus and, this time, her MCL, too, although unlike her first injury, surgery wasn't required. 

She returned ahead of her sophomore season, ready to put the setbacks behind her, and she unknowingly walked right into a third — if only it would have been the last. 

During tryouts, Jackson was taking off a shoe when her leg seized up. Doctors later found a cyclops lesion, a cyst of sorts, in the same right knee, diagnosing it the potential cause of her repeated injuries. A second surgery followed in December of that year.

“It's so frustrating having to restart over and over again,” she said. “A lot of (my friends) told me that I should give up and just stop playing because I'm just going to end up getting hurt.”

Jackson didn’t listen, relentlessly grinding to return. She was once more cleared by the end of her sophomore season. But, like a nightmarish snowball of agony, another injury followed close in tow — an inescapable reality. During the softball season, a side sport for the basketball-centric Jackson, that same meniscus succumbed for the third time, forcing Jackson into yet another surgery. 

It was that last trip under the knife that’s stuck closest with the now-weathered Jackson. She spent countless nights in pain following the operation. Ice helped the swelling but did nothing for the pain, which had residually grown in wake of the numerous injuries. The pain medicine offered temporary assistance, but the side effects rendered them nearly worthless, Jackson said.

“I’d just be up all night,” she said. “And then all I could think about is if I'd never gotten injured, where I would be, how I would be playing right now. … You just can't get your mind off of the fact that you could be somewhere — in a better place.”

Added Jackson’s younger brother Jalen, a freshman who played for the Rams this season on junior varsity: “It’s been difficult to watch her go through this because I know how much she loves the game.” 

The lone bright spot? Jackson had been through the process, the rehabilitative rigmarole of it all, many a time. She simply couldn’t give up now. 

She rose early. Her workouts — what movements and drills she could do while hampered with a knee brace and battling the pain — lasted hours. Swimming, physical therapy and electrode therapy helped round out her days last summer.

“Jayda’s work ethic has always inspired me,” Jalen said. “Even on days where we both wanted to sit at home, she brings me to the gym to shoot. Jayda pushes me to work harder and doesn’t tolerate laziness. It always amazes me how she stays so focused on her goal no matter what.”

Jayda Jackson Central Catholic 1

Jackson couldn’t fully unleash herself athletically, but she found avenues to improve individual skills such as ball-handling. She sharpened her mind, too, even serving as a makeshift assistant coach during the program’s team camp at Oregon State University last preseason. There, she took notes every game and addressed her teammates postgame — often, Dickerson said, with brutal honesty about her expectations for them.

“I think that's really also enhanced her knowledge of the game,” Dickerson said.

Jackson has rubbed off on her young teammates. Ten of the Rams this season are freshmen or sophomores. Attending practice and using her voice despite being sidelined, not to mention the work ethic she’s showcased, is a measuring stick for those around her. 

She’ll be looked toward to lead the youth movement moving forward.


Although Jackson says she’ll always carry the “trauma” of her checkered injury past, she has a newfound confidence in herself these days. A self-assured toughness.

“What my surgeries have taught me is to be resilient and never give up because to me, once you give up, that’s when you fail,” she said. “Although my injuries were a major setback, I’d consider them to be one of the better things that's happened to me because I’ve learned so much from them.” 

And she has so much ahead of her still.

Jackson wears a bulky brace on the surgically rebuilt knee, and her conditioning is still a work in progress. But she’s back, and her playing time and impact have risen over the past three weeks. She’s working on what Dickerson has preached, attempting not to get caught up in her mistakes and wrongdoings and instead channel that energy to a commemorative appreciation for her journey and the patience it took to reach this point.

Her season might well end Tuesday night at the hands of the Beavers. Or, maybe it’ll end a week or two from now. But Jackson, of all people, has learned the penalties of prognostication. 

For the most part, she’s focused on the here and now, on those little victories. She'd be lying if she said there isn't a small side-eyed glance toward the future, though.

“It's only up from here,” she said. “I'm excited to see what’s in store for me next year.”