Kelsey Knight and three senior teammates will be playing in their final matches this Friday against Portland State
By Fedor Gaponenko, EWU Sports Information
One anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee injury can be tough to overcome for an athlete, but it takes a special person to battle through two reconstructive knee surgeries and the long rehabilitation process related to such injuries.
But Eastern Washington University senior women’s tennis player Kelsey Knight has survived them both to finish her career on the court and not the alternative of watching from the sideline. On Friday (April 19), Knight and three of her senior teammates end their careers when the Eagles host Portland State at noon.
Knight, who was sidelined in the 2008-09 season and again in 2010-11, suffered her first ACL tear early in her freshman year and another two years later. Thoughts of quitting crossed her mind, but ultimately the desire to come back and play the sport she loves won out.
According to Knight, the toughest part has been overcoming the mental battles. The rehab and therapy can prepare you physically, she says, but until you are able to make that first move without being scared you can’t get back to 100 percent. Thankfully, since she returned from her second tear early in last year’s season, Knight has been able to avoid serious injuries.
Knight will finish as one of the top 11 players in school history in career victories, with a current total of 24 to rank ninth. In doubles competition, Knight has recorded 27 wins. Knight is fourth in school history with the 14 career victories she had with former doubles partner Caitlin Bampton. Knight, who earned All-Big Sky honorable mention honors in 2010, should be honored on the All-Academic squad for a third time at the end of the spring quarter.
Although her career might not have been as smooth as she hoped, Knight has no regrets. The relationships she developed with her teammates and especially her senior class are worth far more to Knight than being able to get a few more wins. One of her hopes is that the future Eastern women’s tennis teams are tight-knit of a group as the ones she has been on for the last five years.
This year the team wasn’t able to qualify for next week’s Big Sky Conference Championships, but that won’t stop them from being fired up and leaving it all on the court against Portland State.
“Outside of their efforts on the court, I know the relationships they've built with one another these past four years will last a lifetime,” said Eastern head coach Dustin Hinson of his senior class, which also includes Chelsea Patton, Ryann Warner and Rocio Norena. “Working hard together as a team towards the same goal has a way of forming bonds that are unrivaled in everyday life and I know these girls have that. I'm proud of them as individuals and I'm excited to see them jump off into their lives outside of college tennis. They are all winners and I know they will experience many more great successes in life.”
Friday you will be playing your last matches as an Eagle. Describe some of the emotions going into this event?
“It’s exciting because I think we have a good chance of winning. It’s also bittersweet because this has been my life; these girls have been my family the past five years. I was excited at first to be done, but now it’s kind of sad -- I’ll probably cry.”
What does the team need to do to finish this season on a high note with a win?
“I definitely think we have the talent and what it takes to beat Portland State. They’re a good team and they have some good wins, but I think we have more fire coming into it. I know that if Moira wins this match she ties the school record for the most wins in a season and so we’re all going to feed into and off of that. All the seniors are going to be pumped for a win. It’s going to come down to who wants it more.”
Looking back on your time playing for the Eagles tennis team, what will you remember most?
“I learned a lot about myself. I had two torn ACLs, so I learned what it’s truly like to be a student-athlete. The commitment you put into being a student-athlete is what you get out of it. I love the university and I love my family -- the girls on the team are like my sisters. I had the greatest time here and I will never forget it. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and one day I will be telling my kids and grandkids about playing tennis at EWU.”
Tell me about your relationship with your teammates, especially fellow seniors.
“I’m actually a year older than all of them because I had a fifth year of eligibility. They were freshmen when I was a sophomore and I felt like I took all of them under my wing. Our relationships have grown over the past four years. I can tell these girls anything and they can tell me anything. We’re all very close not just as a team, but you’ll see us hanging out on the weekends. We also try to instill that into all the other girls, and we hope that when we’re gone it continues next year and into future generations. I think more important than the wins and how good you are, is how you get along. If you have that, the wins will follow.”
What is your favorite thing about tennis as a sport?
“I just love the competitiveness. I’m not a big practice person -- you can ask any of my coaches -- but when I get on the court I love to compete and psych my teammates up. If I’m not playing I’m cheering louder than anyone else and I’m getting feisty and fired up. That’s always been my favorite part of tennis, just giving myself wholly to the match whether I’m playing or supporting.”
Do you like singles or doubles more and why?
“Before I injured my knees, I preferred singles because I’m a team person and I felt extremely bad if we lost a doubles match -- I would want to take all the blame. After I hurt my knees I started liking doubles more because I had someone to fire me up and someone to bounce ideas and strategy off of. I might not be best at doubles, but I like it more now.”
You battled through two ACL tears earlier in your career, how tough was that to overcome?
“It’s tough. It’s so common that people tear their ACLs that the general public sometimes doesn’t understand how hard it really is. You’re out for six months and you’re rehabbing the whole time. It’s frustrating because as an athlete you came to play Division I tennis, yet you can be sidelined in a millisecond by something that goes wrong. It’s frustrating, but it has helped me grow as an individual. It forced me to work hard and set goals -- a lot of times people have an injury like that and they give up. When I was injured, I would set my mind that I want to come back and compete at the same level that I was before, and I feel like this season I’m there.”
After experiencing those injuries firsthand, would you say it’s possible to be back to 100 percent?
“The physical side of it is definitely possible with rehab and hard work, but it takes a special person to be able to mentally push through it. Harder than any physical aspects that I went through or any surgery was actually coming back and just being willing to go for a ball. I needed to push through some pain knowing that it’s going to be okay. “
Who is one of the biggest influences in your life?
“I definitely have to say my parents. They supported me through everything from afar -- they lived in California and now they live in Georgia. Whatever decisions I make I know they’re always there for me. Tennis-wise, I would have to say my biggest influence is Kacey Hoob, our athletic trainer. She’s like a big sister and when I first tore my ACL she was there for me. When I tore my second ACL she was there for me again -- she tore both her ACLs as a college athlete so she was able to really understand me. I probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her.”
Outside of tennis what will you miss about Eastern?
“I love the campus and how it is small yet big. There are always things going on and people to meet, but there are always familiar faces too. I also like how the students get behind the athletic programs and I’ve seen that grow since my freshman year.”
What are you planning to do with your communication disorders degree?
“I was just accepted into grad school at Armstrong Atlantic University in Georgia. I want to be a speech language pathologist for communication disorders. A speech language pathologist would work with the kids who had different speech disorders and I really wanted to do that.”
Are you done with tennis as anything more than a hobby, or do you plan to keep playing competitive tennis once you graduate?
“Even though tennis can be frustrating and competing as a full time student-athlete is a challenge, I just love the game of tennis. I’m sure I will come back to it in some form or another. I might play in a league and I might even play in tournaments, but first I want to take a long healthy break.”