York College senior Kelsey Murphy sits in an empty gym at the Grumbacher Sport and Fitness Center where the womans’ team play their home games.
York College senior Kelsey Murphy sits in an empty gym at the Grumbacher Sport and Fitness Center where the womans' team play their home games. (Brittany Alvarado)

Two weeks after the 2011-12 season ended for the York College women's basketball team, sophomore guard Kelsey Murphy stopped attending class.

Murphy wouldn't leave her room at an on-campus apartment. Her roommates were concerned. They turned to women's basketball coach Betsy Witman for help.

"Information that I was getting from them indicated she (Murphy) was struggling," Witman said. "She hadn't returned any of my calls or texts."

So Witman stopped by the apartment, met with Murphy, and the two made the short walk back to Witman's office inside the Grumbacher Center to chat about what was going on.

Murphy had been battling depression for months. She hadn't missed a game her sophomore season while helping the Spartans reach the Sweet 16. But a tumultuous struggle with depression was ravaging the 5-foot, 10-inch guard.

Kelsey Murphy holds the York College women’s basketball record for career 3-pointers with 191. She’s also part of the winningest senior class
Kelsey Murphy holds the York College women's basketball record for career 3-pointers with 191. She's also part of the winningest senior class in program history. Her road to success, however, has not been an easy one. Two years ago Murphy overcame a serious bout of depression. (JOHN A. PAVONCELLO -- jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com)

"It was terrible. I was dragging myself to practice, which I love," Murphy said. "At the time, it was torturous to be in here (the gym) for two hours and that I had to be out of bed for that long."

Today, Murphy holds the York College record for career 3-pointers (191) and is part of the winningest senior class in program history.

On Friday, she and her teammates will compete in the NCAA Division III Tournament when the Spartans play host to La Roche at 7 p.m.

The transformation Murphy has made over the last two years to get to this point, though, is perhaps the more remarkable story.

Not feeling right: Murphy, called "Murph" by players and coaches, has trouble pinpointing why she became depressed two years ago.

"I think that was the thing that was so weird about it was there was nothing that triggered it," Murphy said. "There was no dramatic experience with a boyfriend or anything like that."

Murphy wasn't going to class. She would go long stretches without eating. And when she did eat, it came in large portions. She slept for abnormally long hours. There was no motivation to get up and lead a productive life.

York College’s Kelsey Murphy, center, and Aja Wallpher, left, talk with Coach Betsy Witman during a timeout in the Capital Athletic Conference
York College's Kelsey Murphy, center, and Aja Wallpher, left, talk with Coach Betsy Witman during a timeout in the Capital Athletic Conference championship game. Murphy and Wallpher have each survived battles with depression during their York College careers. The seniors have emerged to enjoy record-setting careers with the highly successful Spartans' programs. (BIL BOWDEN -- For The York Dispatch)

Those are some of the symptoms of depression, according to Sam Pisano, a licensed professional counselor working for Psychological Associates of Lancaster. Pisano has practiced in Lancaster and York for more than 20 years.

"There's sadness, loss of interest in doing anything, motivation is really terrible," Pisano said. "You really debate getting out of bed in the morning. You're irritable, anxious, there's increased fearfulness. And generally with those symptoms you start to see sleep problems. Trouble getting to sleep, waking up prematurely and can't get back to sleep. Appetite changes."

There are many reasons why these symptoms occur. Pisano believes some of them are because of a chemical imbalance in the brain with the regulation of chemicals that make us feel good, give us energy and affect our emotions.

"So if you've got a sort of chemical either not producing enough or lacking somewhere, as a consequence of that, you'll end up physically feeling exhausted or not motivated," Pisano said. "It's hard to get the engine running because a spark is missing. You can say to a person 'Come on, let's go.' That might be enough to get them to go ahead and in a difficult way go through the motions. But they're not feeling right."

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. It's especially prevalent among college students. Healthline.com reports one out of four college students suffers from some form of mental illness, including depression.

Aja Wallpher is a standout point guard for the York College women’s basketball team. Like her teammate Kelsey Murphy, however, Wallpher to beat back
Aja Wallpher is a standout point guard for the York College women's basketball team. Like her teammate Kelsey Murphy, however, Wallpher to beat back depression early in her Spartans' career. She later helped Murphy overcome her own struggle with depression. (BILL KALINA -- bkalina@yorkdispatch.com)

Wallpher's own battle: Murphy left York College in March 2012 to seek help from a medical professional while staying at her parents' home in Olney, Md. One of the first people to reach out and offer advice was fellow starter Aja Wallpher, York's all-time leader in steals and assists who teammates call "Red" because of her long, red hair. Near the end of Wallpher's freshman year at York, depression caused her to leave school and seek help.

The 5-foot-8 point guard from Maryland experienced many of the same symptoms as Murphy.

"When it (depression) really hit for her is when basketball stopped (after her freshman season at York)," said John Wallpher, Aja's dad. "It was the first time there was no AAU basketball or a continuation of basketball in the offseason. All that was done. Now you just had school. I think that was devastating for her. Plus, she had committed to York so late (in 2010) she ended up getting a single room (on campus). In hindsight that was a bad thing for her. She was isolated. That was when it really took hold for her."

John Wallpher only found out how serious his daughter's depression had become when Aja's grades came at the end of the 2011 spring semester. The grades were incomplete.

That would raise red flags for any parent, but even more so for John Wallpher because his daughter was always a straight-A student; Aja had a 4.26 grade-point average her senior year at Seton Keough (Md.) High School.

"It started there and I kind of struggled with it," Aja Wallpher said. "I'm still kind of dealing with it. Depression is not like a cold. You don't have it and get over it. You have it the rest of your life. You take medicine for it and get treatment."

After receiving help back home over the summer of 2011, Wallpher returned to York College at the start of that fall semester. In addition to having a support system of classmates, teammates, coaches and parents, Wallpher said she takes medication and occasionally seeks counseling from the York College counseling center to help her overcome depression.

"At first you're in denial. It feels like a bad thing. You feel guilty for it," Wallpher said. "The first thing was accepting that. Coach Witman and the counselors here (at York College) helped me. Then parents got on board. I was able to go home over the summer and get help."

A helping hand: Murphy and Wallpher had been teammates on the Maryland Flames club basketball team since the eighth grade. But it wasn't until Murphy left school in March 2012 that Murphy and Wallpher became close friends.

"It's tough to balance. You want to be supportive and let them know if they need anything," Wallpher said when asked how she helped Murphy return to normal. "Some days I just needed to be there and be a distraction. Just come over and sit there and watch Spongebob. Other times she needed a kick in the butt. And sometimes we'd butt heads. I'd be tough on her. She told me before not giving up on her was big."

One of the oddest things of the whole ordeal was that Murphy and Wallpher were roommates in their sophomore years, but Wallpher never noticed Murphy needed help before she had to leave school.

"It was still kinda new to me," Wallpher said. "I was still worrying about going through it myself. We technically did live together. I wasn't in the apartment that much to see that she wasn't leaving to go to class."

Upon leaving school, Murphy visited several doctors and tried different medications for a three-month stretch before her parents felt comfortable enough for her to return to York College in June 2012.

"I stayed with my parents and kind of started seeing doctors and trying all sorts of different kinds of things (medication) to get me back on my feet," Murphy said. "And then probably about June I started feeling better and I came up here to take some summer classes to kind of pull myself back because I was down some credits."

It wouldn't be until November 2012, around the start of the next basketball season, when Murphy finally felt back to normal.

Concern for the future: As for the future, Murphy plans to join Witman's bench as an assistant coach next season while she completes her bachelor's degree.

"She's going to be an awesome coach," Witman said. "It's going to be hard to lose Murph as a player, but to have her on the sideline with us is gonna be ... hopefully she can help some other athletes that might be struggling with it (depression). She might be able to see the warning signs better than I was able to."

Murphy, who achieved a 3.5 GPA last semester for the first time in her college career, is majoring in behavioral science. She eventually wants to find a job where she can help others, possibly assisting people with similar problems she experienced.

"I'm not really completely sure, but I definitely want to do something in human services," Murphy said. "Something along those lines."

There are concerns for Murphy and Wallpher beyond finding work, though. It remains to be seen how the players everyone refers to as Murph and Red will handle their futures when they have to join the real world, saying goodbye to basketball and school along with their support system of classmates, teammates and coaches.

"That transition, college to real world, you have different stresses and pressures and expectations. It's gonna be scary," Wallpher said. "Murphy and I have talked about it a little bit. You just gotta make sure you are surrounded by people. Keep your support system as strong as possible."

— York Dispatch health reporter Mollie Durkin contributed to this article. Reach John Walk at jwalk@yorkdispatch.com.