Eight years ago, senior Jenni Brooks felt an unusual pain in her right shoulder. After three shoulder surgeries, Brooks’ doctor figured out the problem with the Shockers’ pitching ace.
Brooks had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS).
TOS is a condition where the space between the collarbone and first rib, or thoracic outlet, is compressing against each other. Brooks said her first rib was sitting on the nerves, causing numbness and swelling down her pitching arm.
On Nov. 16, Brooks had her first rib removed from her right shoulder. After eight months of not being able to step on the mound, Brooks was cleared to start throwing again in practice on Jan. 24.
“Once I got that finished, I started my throwing progression,” Brooks said. “I got back into pitching, slowly and surely getting back into it. I should be able to pitch (in a game) by the end of this month, so I’m really excited for it.”
The pain in Brooks’ pitching arm continued to bother her throughout the entire 2016 season, but she refused to let it sit her out of competition. Despite playing most of last season with TOS, Brooks was a dominating force on the mound for WSU.
In 38 games, Brooks collected a record of 18-7 and led the Shockers with an earned run average of 3.23.
“She had a lot of confidence on the mound when she pitched, which a lot of our pitchers really struggled with,” redshirt freshman Kaylee Huecker said. “She always went out with a good attitude and never got down if someone would hit a homerun off her.”
Brooks led the Shockers to wins over No. 23 Nebraska and Kansas on the road, only allowing one run combined with five total strikeouts that put the Shockers in the driver’s seat for the remaining of the regular season.
With an average of allowing 3.8 hits per game from opponents and holding WSU’s opponents to a .271 batting average, WSU’s ace led the Shockers to the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament championship to clinch their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2005.
“Last season, I was fighting the pain that I had in my arm, but I knew after the season that I was going to get my surgery,” Brooks said. “I pushed through it for my team and I had the best season of my life. It was probably the best feeling ever.”
Even though Brooks is not pitching in practice yet, she is still an active participant. She is in the dugout encouraging her teammates and gives guidance to freshman pitcher Bailey Klitzke about keeping poise during practices and the games.
“She’s been in those situations and knows what it’s like,” Klitzke said. “She’s done a terrific job in helping me.”
Coming off an All-Missouri Valley Conference second team honor, Brooks looks to return to the field better than she has ever been for her final season wearing a WSU uniform. She has been working through rehabilitation and developing her pitching routine once again.
While watching practice from the dugout has not been easy, Brooks said this recovery process has given her an appreciation for the opportunity to go back on the field.
“It’s been difficult having to watch practice and not be out there on the field with my team, but it also makes me appreciate being able to play a lot more,” Brooks said. “I’m really excited to get back out there and pitch again for my team.”