By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Penn Quakers women’s basketball team will visit Brown tonight as they come down the homestretch of the 2011-12 campaign. There are just three games left in the season — and in the career of forward Jess Knapp, whose uplifting senior year has made a permanent impression on the Quaker program.
The 5’11” Knapp missed her entire freshman season after tearing the ACL in her right knee. She was able to bounce back, however, to become a key contributor as a sophomore and a junior.
Then she got her senior season off to a really good start and was playing well early in a game in California against San Diego State on December 30th. That’s when things went off script.
“There was no contact. I caught the ball sort of near the block. Broke through, took a dribble, went to jump stop and on the jump stop – it wasn’t really landing on the jump stop, it was sort of like the power up off of it – and something just went wrong.”
Listen to KYW’s Matt Leon’s interview with Jess Knapp:
Knapp had now torn the ACL in her left knee. As it turned out she also tore a second ligament, her MCL, as well. While in pain, she says she was able to process things very quickly.
“The good thing was, if there is any good thing of having torn the ACL before, I knew, as soon as I went down I knew what had happened. But I was able to really, I think, accept it really quick and my thought process immediately was – I’ve heard of people trying to play on it, so hopefully that’s an option. Basically, how am I going to deal with this in the best possible way. At that point, I was really leaning towards if I can play, I’m going to.”
Penn head coach Mike McLaughlin confirms that Knapp made her intentions clear right away.
“We walked off the court when she got hurt and she said, ‘Coach, I’m gonna do this.'”
After the official diagnosis, it was determined that Knapp would indeed postpone surgery until after the season, and try and play. She was fitted for a brace, and missed a month as she worked to strengthen the knee. She returned on January 27th to play 11 minutes in a win over Columbia and she hasn’t missed a game since. Knapp says recovering from the injury was actually tougher mentally then it was physically.
Listen to KYW’s Matt Leon’s interview with Mike McLaughlin:
“You don’t want to sit there and say, ‘Why me?’ or ‘This can’t be happening to me.’ Of course that happens a little bit, but it’s also sort of like how do you react to it? I think that was why it was so tough. Because I was playing pretty well, I had a pretty established role on the team and then that happens and it’s like, not only am I back at square one, I’m pretty much back 100 paces from where I was. So that was a lot to wrap my head around.”
But Knapp has rounded into form – she had a double-double in a win last Friday over Dartmouth with a season high 11 points and ten rebounds. She then followed that up the next night with a solid 10-point, 8-rebound, 4-assist line in a tough loss to Harvard. She has no doubts that she made the right decision to get back on the court.
“I don’t think I would’ve been able to sleep at night, later on down the road, thinking that maybe I hung it up very prematurely.
“Basically, I didn’t come back because someone told me I had to. I think I just really wanted to. I wanted to for the team. I wanted to for the experience. I wanted to for myself. It’s my last season, probably my last time playing – I don’t want to say competitive basketball, because any time I play it will be competitive – but organized, at this level. So I just really wanted to live it up as much as I could.”
Her head coach minces no words when he talks about watching Knapp’s incredible comeback.
“I just think it’s amazing,” McLaughlin says. “This is prototypical of Jess though, this is how she wants to end her career. She’s more determined than anyone I’ve ever coached and I’m so proud of her.”