Jess Knapp was just driving the basket, something the forward had done countless times throughout the course of her three-plus years in college basketball.
But this time was different. After jump stopping, her knee gave out and she hit the floor, hard. She had to be helped off the court and would later find out she had torn her ACL and MCL.
In the blink of an eye, everything changed for the Penn women’s basketball team. But with Knapp’s return to practice this week, despite her unhealed knee, spirits are high once again.
The Quakers (7-8, 0-1 Ivy) had entered winter break off to their best start in program history at 6-2, their two losses coming against then-No. 3 Notre Dame and Big 5 rival La Salle.
After beating UNC-Greensboro, 47-36, Penn went on to face San Diego State in the Surf ’N Slam championship game. It was in that fateful contest that Knapp, after scoring the first four points of the game, injured her knee. Penn went on to lose, 51-37.
Nearly a month later, the Quakers have yet to taste victory again.
“We miss her greatly, there’s no hiding that fact,” coach Mike McLaughlin said of his captain.
No doubt, their six-game losing streak serves as evidence of that.
“We have a lot of young freshmen that are playing and they’re succeeding and are going to continue to succeed,” McLaughlin added. “But one of the reasons they were was they had the blanket of Jess being there. We took the blanket away, and now they’re out there a little bit by themselves.”
If the six-game slide isn’t staggering enough, the team’s numbers during that span are truly alarming.
Without their floor general leading the charge, the Quakers’ defense has allowed close to five points more on average, and the offensive output has dropped nearly 16 points per game — a deadly combination.
“There’s just so much more that someone of her caliber does for us,” McLaughlin said. “She screens. She keeps the ball alive on the offensive end. She tips the ball for offensive rebounds for other people. We lost that all at once.”
Granted, the level of competition also increased during that span, as both San Diego State and Princeton — to whom Penn fell, 83-48 — have received Top 25 votes.
But the misfortune bestowed upon the Quakers could change this weekend when they face Columbia (2-14, 0-2) and Cornell (7-9, 1-1).
Knapp, who has been practicing all week with a brace, may see her first action since December.
“It’s gonna be tremendous” if she can play, said senior Jourdan Banks of her co-captain. “Because we know how much she wants to be out there to help us win, I think, is going to boost a lot of the confidence and the spirit and energy of the game.”
But because she has yet to fully heal — yes, she would be playing with two torn ligaments — McLaughlin is going to take it very slowly.
“It’s really about Jess … It’s got to be her confidence feeling that she can still compete at the level she wants to compete,” he said. “I don’t know right away if it will be the role that she had.
“I think her presence will give us the biggest confidence,” he added. “Even just having her on our bench with the uniform on, I think, will really distill a lot of confidence in the rest of the girls.”
And if the numbers indicate anything, having her play certainly won’t hurt.
Unless you’re Jess Knapp and you’re playing through two torn ligaments.
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