Long time coming: NIU guards Castro and Poisson are finally healthy and contributing in big ways

  • Paulina Castro, who beat Hodgkin lymphoma, is back with the Northern Illinois University basketball team.

    Paulina Castro, who beat Hodgkin lymphoma, is back with the Northern Illinois University basketball team. Courtesy of NIU Athletics

Updated 12/11/2020 6:19 PM

For obvious reasons, 2020 is a year none of us will forget.

For Janae Poisson and Paulina Castro, this year might be worth remembering in a very positive way.


This seems to be the year Poisson and Castro, never-give-up guards for the Northern Illinois basketball team, are 100 percent back.

Castro, a redshirt senior from Harvest Christian in Elgin, waged a fight against Hodgkin lymphoma in 2016.

She won, but not without losing a full season of basketball, a lot of strength, conditioning, and her hair.

Just as she returned from that and her career at NIU started to gain momentum, Castro suffered another setback, a serious back injury that sidelined her for all but three games last season.

Meanwhile, Poisson, a redshirt junior from Marian Catholic in the South suburbs, has had two ACL tears in back-to-back seasons.

She has played 11 games the last three years, and missed the 2018-19 season.

Janae Poisson, who suffered ACL tears in successive seasons, is the first player off the bench for NIU.
Janae Poisson, who suffered ACL tears in successive seasons, is the first player off the bench for NIU. - Courtesy of NIU Athletics
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Castro and Poisson are back for the Huskies, feeling healthy and among the leading scorers.

Castro starts, averaging 10.3 points and leads the team in assists. Poisson, the first player off the bench, averages 14 points -- second on the team -- and leads the Huskies with 14 three-pointers.

"It's so fun to see them both back and healthy," Northern Illinois coach Lisa Carlsen said. "Neither one of them had been able to get back to where they feel fully healthy.

"They aren't hindered in any way now."

When Poisson tried to play last year, she showed signs of her old self on the offensive end. Scoring was not a problem. But defensively, Poisson had trouble keeping up with quick guards because her lateral movement had not improved enough.

Now, she's confident in that movement.

For Castro, her back injury last year limited everything she could do, and she ultimately had to retreat.

"Paulina is playing with such confidence and such a high IQ right now because she's feeling great, she's healthy again," Carlsen said. "It's good for us because she sees the floor better than any player we have, and she has a calming effect on the rest of our players."


Poisson is that spark off the bench that all teams need. She could easily start, but is thriving in this role. She's hit 4 three-pointers in each of the last three games.

"Now, Janae has full trust in her knee," Carlsen said. "She could always score, but now she feels good about that lateral movement on defense.

"That has helped her confidence and she's playing really well. She can be that instant offense. When she gets going, good luck stopping her."

She's back

There's another good comeback happening with the NIU team.

Ally Lehman, the all-time leader in assists (plus 1,461 points), has joined the staff.

Lehman, who graduated in 2017 and has done some military service, is a graduate assistant with ambitions of being a college coach.

"She's going to be a great coach," NIU head coach Lisa Carlsen said of Lehman, who is from Nineveh, Ind. "Everyone remembers her as a tenacious player, the kids feed off her competitiveness, and our guards are definitely learning from her. She is a Huskie through and through, and when you have someone who exudes that every day without prompting, it's a lot of fun."

Giving back:

WNBA star and Naperville Central grad Candace Parker put on her best Santa impression Monday.

She helped the Dick's Sporting Goods Foundation gift deserving girls from the ABC Pilsen basketball organization in Chicago with athletic gear.

Parker, via livestream video, interacted with the kids.

On her Instagram account, Parker posted: "2020 has been tough for many reasons and youth sports have taken a big hit like so many of us. It was great to take some time to virtually connect with some up and coming hoopers from ABC Pilsen in Chicago this holiday season thanks to The @dickssportinggoods Foundation! We've partnered to give away 10,000 gifts this month to young athletes across the country."

• Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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