Behind the masks

masks 12-8

Freshmen Kelsea Fickiesen (left) and Heidi Schlegel (right) prepare to enter the game against Bowling Green State University on Tuesday. Fickiesen broke her nose this year while Schlegel broke hers more than a year ago, so they both wear protective masks while playing. Photo by Nick Mancini/The Jambar.

Heidi Schlegel and Kelsea Fickiesen have a lot of things in common. Both freshmen play basketball for Youngstown State University — but something else sticks out.

Schlegel and Fickiesen wear protective facemasks when they play, thanks to broken noses.

“Brandi Brown hit me in the face with an elbow,” Schlegel said, referring to the junior forward. “I was guarding her on the perimeter, and she ripped through going to drive. It’s just protective now. At first, it bothered me a lot, but now it is kind of like whatever.”

Schlegel broke her nose in October 2010. Because of a broken foot, she played just seven games last season and was redshirted.

Fickiesen broke her nose nearly a year later while boxing out Tavares Jackson, assistant women’s basketball coach.

“On October 31, I got my nose broken in the gym,” Fickiesen said. “He jumped over top of me for the rebound, and I jumped too. He was backwards … and he jumped up and his head cracked my nose.”

Fickiesen said she still has to wear the protective facemask because of doctor’s orders. However, she’ll continue to wear it afterward for protection.

When she plays, it’s easy to notice the mask. Fickiesen said a few aspects stick out to her.

“I would say breathing and peripheral vision,” she said. “Like whenever you go into rebound, it’s just hard to see. Like I just have something over the top of my head where I can’t see where the ball is.”

Schlegel said she definitely notices a difference when she plays.

“I feel like seeing ball and man, when you are on defense, you can’t just look. You have to move your head,” she said.

Head women’s basketball coach Bob Boldon said the masks are well made, but they are still difficult to play with.

“It’s cumbersome,” Boldon said. “It is difficult to play with something on your face, having played all your life with nothing on your face. … I think Heidi is more comfortable with it than Kelsea.”

Both masks have padding to alleviate some of the pressure.

Fickiesen said the extra padding helps to ease the pain.

“With all the pressure on the other bones, it helps so much,” she said. “But I can still feel it if it gets bumped.”

Schlegel and Fickiesen have been important contributors for the Penguins, who are off to a 4-3 start.

Fickiesen is averaging 5.6 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. She scored 12 points in the Penguins’ win over Western Michigan University on Nov. 30, a career high.

In her first year playing for the Penguins, everything has been going well, she said, adding that she’s just working to help the team win.

Schlegel started six of seven games thus far, and she is averaging 11.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. She ranks second on the team in each category.

She has hit 50 percent of her 3-point field goal attempts. In the Penguins’ previous game, she led the team with 15 points. She said this season is going much better than the last.

“We are having a lot of fun,” Schlegel said. “We are working hard. Everyone is just working hard. It’s going good.”

Boldon said Schlegel and Fickiesen have been playing well, but he has no advice for them when it comes to playing with the mask.

“I can help with shooting and defense and rebounding and offensive ideas,” Boldon said. “But with the mask, they are on their own. I know Kelsea is excited to get rid of it, and I think Heidi has kind of embraced it. Everybody has a different way of dealing with the mask.”