Kittanning girls team getting injured players back

Kittanning guard Emily Knepshield brings the ball upcourt during a home loss to Ford City on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. Knepshield finished with 24 points.
Kittanning guard Emily Knepshield brings the ball upcourt during a home loss to Ford City on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. Knepshield finished with 24 points.
Bill West
| Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

On Dec. 7, the opening night of the season for the Kittanning girls basketball team, 5-foot-6 senior Frankie Religa, a returning starter, tore the meniscus in her left knee during a home win over Moniteau.

Twenty days later, 5-foot-6 senior guard Taylor Patterson, another returning starter, broke bones in her left wrist when she fell after attempting to take a charge during a holiday tournament game at State College.

And just seven days into 2013, 5-foot-8 junior forward Kirsten Wolfe, yet another returning starter, suffered serious damage to the anterior cruciate, medial collateral and lateral collateral ligaments in her right knee during a home win over Freeport.

In the face of adversity that included those setbacks and other injured players, Kittanning has soldiered on and stayed in the thick of the Section 1-AAA playoff race. Backups such as junior Sydney Cloak, sophomore Alaina Thomas and freshman Taylar Wolfe became go-to players, and they delivered in a way that revealed surprising depth for the fairly young Wildcats. And Kittanning's remaining original starters — senior Cassie Merryman and junior Emily Knepshield — fared well as they shouldered greater burdens at both ends of the floor.

Now, as the home stretch of the regular season approaches, Kittanning (8-10, 6-3) might become healthier than at any point since early December. Patterson and Religa head to their doctors Monday with hopes of receiving clearance to play in the home section game against Mars (12-6, 7-1) at 7:30 p.m.

“I can use it a lot more than I thought I could,” Patterson said of her wrist, which has been in a hard cast but remains functional enough to allow her to shoot and even briefly dribble. “I'm really nervous (for the doctor's assessment). ... I just want to finish my senior season.”

Religa understands that sentiment. A season ago, she suffered a torn ACL in her left knee as she went up for a rebound in a practice right before the 2012 playoffs. She underwent surgery in late March and recovered in time to compete in volleyball this past fall.

Another rebound battle led to her latest knee injury, one she initially thought was a minor tweak.

“I jumped up, and it felt like (the knee) locked up on me,” Religa said. “My knee was just stuck in a bent position.”

Her doctor suggested a four-month recovery period, though there was a possibility of a faster rehabilitation.

Religa believes she's the beneficiary of such a rapid comeback.

“(The knee) feels like it's back to normal again,” said Religa, who has jogged and biked but has not sprinted yet. “It looks good; it's not swollen.”

At points this winter, as the injuries piled up, the players in street clothes outnumbered those in uniform. Thomas briefly sat out with a concussion. Sophomore guard Tiffany Montgomery suffered ligament damage in her foot; junior forward Allie Hapner, a sprained ankle; and sophomore forward Emily Klingensmith, a concussion.

The scene saddened Knepshield, the team's leading scorer and a co-captain with Religa, her closest friend, and Patterson, her cousin.

“It was really heart-breaking to look over and see all of my best friends over there,” she said. “Sadly, we kind of got used to girls getting hurt and expecting it to be serious.”

Wolfe remains out; she'll undergo surgery in late February. Montgomery and Klingensmith also remain sidelined. But the rest are back or will return soon to bolster Kittanning, which needs one more win to secure a postseason berth.

“It'll be like they never left,” Knepshield said.

With its leaders back, Kittanning will get better, the girls believe — after all, their luck can get much worse.

“It's definitely crazy,” Religa said of the injury spree. “It's such a freak thing. … We just try to laugh about it now.”

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