March 1, 2023 

How do student-athletes persevere through injuries? Just ask San Diego’s Myah Pace

'There's definitely been a lot of times throughout my career where I just felt down'

The journey for every college basketball player is never straightforward. Most players go through ups and down throughout their careers. They face team struggles, individual struggles, and coaching changes. However, none of that compares to the worst issue any student-athlete can face, injuries. Injuries can change a player’s path or completely derail a player’s career. For San Diego senior point guard Myah Pace, injuries have been the story of her career, but she has persevered through all of them.

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Pace was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Between the time she was born and when she started playing high school basketball in Oakland, California, Pace and her family lived in five different states and six different cities. Despite all the moving, Pace found basketball and fell in love with the game at a very young age. She played across the country as her family moved and around eighth grade was when she started getting recruiting interests.

When Pace first started getting noticed, her family lived in South Bend, Indiana. Around the time she started high school, Pace and her family moved once again — this time to the Bay Area, where she attended Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland. Pace was a little worried about the fact all the Midwest schools that had shown interest in her would not be able to see her anymore. However, all the moving she’d done as a kid didn’t scare her away from going somewhere far from home and she saw something in San Diego that gave her confidence it was the right place.

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“I just knew that I wanted to go somewhere where, I just felt like I had a second family away from my family. I think that moving around so much growing up, I wasn’t afraid of going far away. I just wanted to make sure that the environment and the team was right,” Pace told the Next. “That’s kind of what felt right about San Diego is just the team atmosphere, the girls were really welcoming kind and I also just had a lot of fun getting to know everyone and I also felt comfortable doing so on my own.”

Myah Pace sets up to guard against WCC foe Pepperdine. Photo Credit: University of San Diego Athletics.

Pace had a strong first season in San Diego, starting on and off throughout the season including the Toreros run to the WCC championship game in 2018 and was named to the WCC all-freshman team. She got her sophomore year off to a strong start, scoring in double figures five times in her 14 games and dishing out at least six assists in six games. However, this is when the first in a series of unfortunate spell of injuries struck. Pace got a concussion after the Toreros third WCC game of the year and never fully recovered from the symptoms. She didn’t play again that season.

Going into her junior season in 2019-20, Pace was poised for a breakout year and didn’t disappoint. She averaged a career high 11.9 points and 92 steals, which is the single season record at San Diego for steals in a season. She scored in double-figures 19 times, including back-to-back 20-point performances against LMU and Portland. All this success garnered Pace a spot on All-WCC first team. She again helped lead the Toreros into the WCC championship game, but they once again came up short of the WCC title. They were poised to participate in the WNIT for the first time in four years, but it was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic.

“She continues to get better, she continues to grow her game and, work on different areas of her game,” San Diego head coach Cindy Fisher told the Next. “She’s just that calmness on the court that we just have to have. She just a great defender, she’s always in the right spots. She can guard really one through four. She’s a big, strong guard, she rebounds really, really well. I think she’s just taken different areas that she knows she can do well, and she’s made the best of that.”

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After her tremendous junior year, Pace was ready to lead the Toreros on another run in the WCC tournament and build off her great junior season. However, the injury bug once again had a different idea. Pace partially tore the meniscus in her knee and had to manage the injury throughout the 2020-21 season. She never had surgery but the injury and some Covid pauses the Toreros went through caused her to miss five games in the pandemic shortened season. 

Myah Pace drives in a home game against San Francisco. Photo Credit: University of San Diego Athletics.

Despite missing time, when she did play, she had a big impact. She averaged 11.8 points per game and scored a career high 22 points in a win at Pepperdine. Even with the injury, her play earned her All-WCC second team for that season. Unfortunately, the Toreros had a Covid outbreak before the last week of the regular season and couldn’t participate in the WCC tournament or any other postseason event.

After a tough fourth season and with Covid on the down swing, Pace was ready to head full steam into her fifth year in 2021-22. Unfortunately, she couldn’t shake injuries. In the Toreros’ first game on the season last year, Pace tore her Achilles. The injury required surgery and knocked her out for the entire season. The Toreros went on to qualify for their first WNIT since 2016 but Pace couldn’t participate.

“I think that one thing that’s been really huge for me, is the support of the coaching staff and my teammates,” Pace said. “We are a tight knit family and we do a really good job of just picking each other up when we’re down and there’s definitely been a lot of times throughout my career where I just felt down. I think just leaning on my faith and just trusting in the journey. A journey isn’t just about like the finish line, but more so everything in between.”

Heading into this season, Pace knew the goal for her was to stay healthy. It’s happened, and she’s played a big role for the Toreros. She hasn’t been scoring at the level she was earlier in her career, but she has been an invaluable leader for the San Diego program. She is averaging just under 10 points a game with 13 double-digit performances this year. She leads the Toreros in assists and steals and is top 10 in the WCC in both those categories. She also scored her 1,000 point in a win at LMU earlier this season.

Pace attacks through traffic against Hawaii. Photo Credit: University of San Diego Athletics.

On top of her individual success, Pace has been a leader for this Torero team this year. The Toreros came into the season graduating four seniors, three of which were 800+ point scorers for their careers. San Diego had a lot of changes coming for this year’s team, with a lot of players needing to step up into new roles this season. Having Pace back has helped give the Toreros a strong leader who knows how to run the system. She is in her sixth season at San Diego and has been through a lot of different experiences, so she understands she needs to help lead the charge.

“I think it’s been really cool,” Pace said. “I think when I was deciding to stay or kind of wrap up my career last year while I was hurt. One of the things that I felt really strongly about is the injury didn’t happen for no reason and if I’m going to come back and play this last year that I had the opportunity to kind of be a role model for my teammates on and off the court.”

There are nicknames — she calls her teammatte Harsimran Kaur “honey” and Kaur responds by calling the elder stateswoman Pace “granny” — and listening sessions. It’s a chance to fully immerse herself in the experience of being on the team, not navigating her own recovery.

With all the injuries she has faced in her career, Pace has stayed very understanding and realized it’s part of the journey. She’s felt that she’s had great support from her coaches and teammates but has felt her family has really helped keep her head up. Her family is a tight knit group, and she says they do a great job of picking her up and being there for her throughout her career.

“I think at times I have felt different doubts about my body…what’s wrong that these things keep happening?”, Pace said. “But I think I’ve also learned that just like part of perseverance is just getting back up and continuing to work extremely hard. I think that as I’ve also gotten older throughout the program, that hard work has looked differently. Being able to go from working really hard in practice to being on the court to putting your all into your rehab. It takes a lot of mental strength and a lot of mental toughness. I’m not the only one throughout the program that’s faced injuries and multiple injuries and I think my teammates have really inspired me to just continue to work hard and push through.”

Myah Pace drives in a home game against CSUN. Photo Credit: University of San Diego Athletics.

The injuries have also limited Pace’s ability to have time to develop her basketball skills. Most collegiate players see most of their growth through workouts in the spring and summer time once the season has ended. However, Pace has had to spend a lot of that time rehabbing from injuries instead of being able to grow as a basketball player. Despite all the time she has had to rehab, Pace feels she has continued to learn and grow through the time she has had on the court. She has really come to cherish all the time she has playing the game because she understands it can disappear so quickly.

As Pace heads towards the finish line, she is so thankful to San Diego and the experiences she’s had there. She knew coming into this season, coming off the injury and with a lot of new faces that it wouldn’t be easy, but she has helped lead the team to a good place. Going into the WCC tournament, the Toreros are 17-12, the third seed in the tournament after being picked sixth preseason. Pace said coming into the season the goal was to win the WCC tournament, but she is hungry to play in any postseason because she hasn’t gotten that opportunity so far in her career.

But her head coach treasures Pace’s tenure in ways that extend well beyond when in March she finishes her career.

“She is known across campus, she’s known by so many alumni, administrators,” Fisher said. “She’s somebody that so many people respect and have just such high regard for. I just am proud of the woman that she’s become and she’s a super empowered person and strong beliefs and a strong character. They come as young little freshmen and they’re trying to find their way for someone to graduate and be such a leader in our community and leader in the university, it’s just really makes me proud.”

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Despite all the injuries, Pace has never doubted anything about her college basketball experience. She feels so blessed to have had the opportunity to spend six years at San Diego and has felt like the city is now her second home. She feels the injuries have shaped her beyond basketball and have given her confidence to handle anything life throws at her. Pace has a degree in architecture and a real passion for it, but also wants to continue to play basketball overseas once the season is over. Those two goals aren’t at cross-purposes — she can continue to grow her passion for architecture in other countries. For now, she hopes the calmness and confidence that got her through her injuries will help push the Toreros towards a WCC championship. Her coach thinks she will.

“Kind of an old soul,” Fisher said of Pace. “She thinks about everything, she’s slow in her process. We give her a hard time, she’s always the last one out the locker room. Everything she does, she does it was just really deep thought and she’s not gonna make a bad decision and she’s gonna think through everything that she does. She’s very, very funny and friendly and everyone loves Myah. To me, she’s just like a daughter to me now. I mean, we’ve just grown so deeply over the years. I just know we’re in a completely different capacity than I did before. She’s just someone that I have deep, deep respect for and will be a part of my life forever.”

Written by Matthew Walter

Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.

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