Staying involved: Ottawa’s Orlandi, Somonauk’s Rader helped teams despite injuries keeping them off court

Top returning scorers for Pirates, Bobcats led from bench in 2023-24

Ottawa junior Marlie Orlandi watches a game against Princeton earlier this season. The Pirates' leading scorer as a sophomore, Orlandi suffered a season-ending injury last summer, but it didn't stop the all-state guard from contributing despite not being on the court.

Looking ahead after the 2022-23 girls basketball season, both the Ottawa and Somonauk-Leland programs looked primed to be in position for solid campaigns.

The Pirates, coming off a 25-7 mark and a Class 3A regional championship game appearance, would have junior Marlie Orlandi back after she averaged 14.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2 assists and 2.6 steals per game as a sophomore and was an Associated Press Class 3A All-State honorable mention selection.

The Bobcats were set to return Somonauk senior Josie Rader after she recorded norms of 13.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.9 steals, and earned unanimous All-Little Ten Conference honors for a second straight season and was a Times All-Area second-team selection.

However, both suffered season-ending injuries before the season even started. In each case, though, that didn’t stop them from being an integral part of the team’s progress this past season.

Ottawa junior Marlie Orlandi

“I hurt my knee going up for a layup last summer at the end of July playing with my travel team in Minnesota,” Orlandi said. “Then after being told everything was fine after more painful moments and trips to urgent care over the next few weeks, an MRI showed a completely torn ACL. I had surgery on September 27.

“It’s disappointing, but I guess mentally I just told myself, ‘Hey, you’ll have a summer and senior season still to play.’ I felt like there was no reason to put energy into worrying about not playing when that is just how it is. I felt like that energy should go into working on getting back strong while also helping the team however I could. I just take things day by day.

“I had teammates throughout the season ask me how or what things they could do to get better, and hopefully I pointed them in the right directions.”

Orlandi said she is ahead of the rehab process and a few months out from hopefully returning to the court for competition.

“In terms of what having Marlie around the team despite her not being able to be on the floor meant, it meant a lot, a lot more than she even realizes,” Ottawa coach Brent Moore said. “This is a team sport, and yes, it was a tough thing that happened to her, but her strength through everything made an impact on everyone. She was at every practice and every game, except for missing when she had physical therapy and rehab.

“She was seeing everything at practice from the sidelines and right behind the coaches at games, so hopefully she was able to observe the game from a different perspective and it will help her even more in her senior season.”

Somonauk senior Josie Rader

For Rader, the injury that ended her basketball season before it started came during a volleyball practice towards the tail end of the season.

“I came down on someone’s foot, dislocated my ankle and tore four ligaments as well,” Rader said. “I normally have a pretty high pain tolerance, but I knew right away it was bad, because everything went numb. A week later I had an MRI, and the results a couple weeks later showed I’d messed it up pretty good. I had hoped to get back maybe right at the end of the basketball season, but at the doctor checkup right before regionals he said I was still two and a half months from being cleared.”

Rader, who is hoping to return to competition sometime this month playing soccer with the Hinckley-Big Rock co-op, said despite her setback, she wanted to help her team anyway she could.

“I was at every practice and game expect two,” Rader said. “I missed one in that first week of practices because I just needed a day away from it, and the other was for rehab. I tried to stay as positive as I could, but there were some days that were tougher than others.

“We had a very young, inexperienced team, and I saw the same lack of confidence I had when I was trying to adapt to varsity level basketball. I just wanted to be as encouraging as I could and wanted so bad to see them succeed.

“I felt like just because I couldn’t be on the court, that didn’t mean I couldn’t be a great teammate. Hopefully I was, and hopefully I helped.”

Somonauk-Leland coach Jason Zaleski said he already knew the leader he had in Rader, but admitted she pushed that bar even higher without scoring a point, grabbing a rebound or handing out an assist this past season.

“Josie has impressed me so much through all of this,” Zaleski said. “I was very worried how this would impact her, but from Day 1, despite not being able to physically participate, she’s been the same leader she’s always been for this program. She was, without a doubt, a great assistant coach. She would voice her opinions and talk with the younger kids on adjustments they needed to make.

“It was obliviously not the role anyone expected or wanted her to have this season, but to no surprise to anyone who knows her, she excelled in it and made a positive impact on the whole group.”

Ottawa's Marlie Orlandi (22) breezes in for a lay-up as Princeton's Mariah Hobson (left) backs off in a game at Kingman Gymnasium two seasons ago.
Somonauk's Josie Rader shoots a wide-open jump shot over Earlville in a Little Ten Conference game in Somonauk two seasons ago.