March 20th, 2018

Please, knees: Braces on both knees, Rattler Kendell Kuntz ready for nationals

By Sean Rooney on March 13, 2018.

Kendell Kuntz, wearing braces on both knees, poses for a photo at Medicine Hat College on March 8, 2018. Torn knee ligaments be damned, Kuntz will play in nationals alongside her Rattlers teammates this weekend.

Even before she hit the ground, Kendell Kuntz knew.

She knew what tearing your knee ligaments felt like.

Knew the comeback season was over.

“I didn’t get much sleep that night,” said the Medicine Hat College basketball player. “In the moment I was like ‘I tore my ACL, I’m done.'”

It was Feb. 9 at the Snake Pit. Kuntz drove right, came to a two-foot jump stop and boom, the knee gave out. The same knee she’d had surgery on a year earlier and now wore a brace on.

But March 2 there was Kuntz, jersey on, taking part in warmups in a familiar location. Broadcasters at SAIT —where she’d been a two-time all-star with the Trojans —wondered aloud if it was a ploy or if she’d actually suit up in the most important game of the season.

She wouldn’t. Her teammates had this one. They won the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference semifinal over the host team to earn a spot at nationals, where they’re headed today in New Brunswick as the ACAC silver medallists.

This time, there will be no ploy. Kendell Kuntz is suiting up, come hell or high water.

“Who needs ACLs anyways right?” she wrote on Instagram hours after the semifinal win.

Hers must certainly feel cursed. She tore her left anterior cruciate ligament while playing for Eagle Butte High School in 2012, but didn’t realize it until it was too late to do surgery. Her right ACL tore in her second-last game with SAIT in 2016, but all she did was try to rehabilitate it.

In her first practice after transferring to Medicine Hat that year the right knee tore again.She decided to go under the knife and sit out the season.

“I got surgery last January, worked my ass off all summer,” said Kuntz. “It was going awesome, I thought I was going to be good.”

This year the goal was to regain the form she once had. And she did, averaging 13.8 points and 2.6 assists per game. She was named an ACAC all-star for the third time the night before the conference championship tournament began.

“She has a higher engine than most players,” said Rattlers head coach Clayton Nielsen. “You want to recruit that player; where can I find that player that no matter what we’re doing, if it’s shooting free throws they’re intense; practice, intense; game, intense.”

She wasn’t going to play the conference championship though.

“I decided not to risk it, because I could tear it completely and not be able to play next year,” said Kuntz, noting it’s only a partial tear this time. “Now that we’re going to nationals, it kind of changed my head. I’m only going to get to play nationals once, I want to be part of it with my team.”

Her teammates are thrilled to have her, but everyone knows it won’t be the same.

“We won’t play her the same way, but we’re definitely going to play her, for sure,” said Nielsen. “We don’t want her to cover a one or a two guard, we don’t want her driving to the lane. We want more pull-ups, threes that she’s good at, be a little smarter and keep out of situations you might get in trouble.”

Easier said than done.

“I’m a little nervous about it, to be honest,” she said. “But I’m a good shooter, I’ll just shoot more. Hopefully I can still bring my defensive game.”

In the meantime, the injury might have forced the Rattlers to get better. Players who’d deferred to their veteran scoring machine no longer had the option. And everyone worked harder, also because they’d only gone 7-6 in the semester.

“I knew I had to step up knowing that Kendell wasn’t going to be there,” said fellow guard Courtney Henry. “I had to take on a whole other role of instead of a distributor, I had to be a scorer as well. I needed to be prepared to go on and work hard, and that brought my game up as well.”

Now they’re all going to the biggest stage in the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association. Kuntz will be the one with braces on each knee. You can’t miss her.

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