BROOMFIELD — Bella Sandoval heard the pop.
It was the fall of 2015, and the Holy Family junior was taking part in the Tigers' powder puff game when it happened.
"(An opponent) took a jab step and I got my foot stuck in the ground," recalled Sandoval, now a senior.
Said Tigers athletic director Ben Peterson, who was officiating the game: "She kind of landed awkwardly and it was kind of hard to imagine that it was anything but bad. The whole stadium was just different. She got up and our athletic trainer was there and we were able to get her to the sideline, but the whole thing was different at that point."
One day later, Sandoval got the news that she had torn ligaments in her left knee and was about to undertake a journey that would forever change the direction her life.
Over the rehabilitation journey — which she called a blessing in disguise — to get back and be a part of the Tigers basketball team, she questioned herself, her desire but also learned how strong she really was and that when you want something bad enough, you will do anything to get it.
Sandoval knew that if she worked hard enough a spot on coach Ron Rossi's varsity squad was within the realm of possibility.
During the eight-plus months that Sandoval rehabbed, she remained around the team — not playing, but taking part in what she could and being around her teammates.
"It was a sad situation that she didn't get to play her junior year and no doubt she has lost some of her quickness and her speed," said Rossi, who has had the benefit of having Sandoval in his program for four years. "As a coach, you see that her attitude is superb and she's always working hard."
Said Peterson: "That's why I think it is a fabulous story, because she gritted it out. It could have been really easy to just give up and realize that time really isn't on your side at that point. It is not an easy injury to come back from."
Sandoval understands her role on the team. She knows she isn't going to get a ton of minutes, but the camaraderie of the team and just being with her friends was worth the hard work.
On Tuesday night at home against Erie, she experience perhaps the highlight of her prep career.
"She completed a 3-point play and the girls got so excited, it was like she hit the last second shot in a game, it was just that important to them," Rossi said. "I got a little teary eyed with that too, because she is always giving it her best."
Sandoval's motivation has been unquestioned throughout the entire process and she credits her teammates in helping her get back, "I love them so much and I wanted one more chance to play with them," she said.
In the first few weeks, simply lifting her leg at rehab was a grueling process; but as the weeks went on the realization that there was a light at the end of tunnel spurred her on.
"At the beginning it was tough. Going to physical therapy the week after surgery was really tough and I couldn't even lift up my leg," said Sandoval, who plays with a big knee brace on her left knee. "I learned that I am stronger than I thought and that I don't just have to give up when things get hard. It was a blessing in disguise that I tore it, because going though physical therapy I learned that I want to be a physical therapist."