SE: K-State’s Big 12 Sports Medicine Staff of the Year a Deserving Honor

Student-athletes’ lowest moments are the most important for those on their school’s sports medicine staff. When an athlete suffers an injury, rendering incredible skillsets and talent useless for a period of time, athletic trainers step in and provide a plan for first-class treatment toward a full recovery. 

At K-State, this plan often encompasses more than athletic trainers, who are certified and licensed health care professionals. It also frequently includes Ian Connole, director of sports psychology at K-State, and Scott Trausch, the Wildcats’ sport dietician/nutritionist. 

This comprehensive approach to student-athlete health care has not gone unnoticed, either. Recently, K-State was named the Big 12 Sports Medicine Staff of the Year, an award voted on by each school’s sports medicine staff. K-State also received the honor in 2004. 

“It’s a very deserving honor for our sports medicine staff. They have always gone above and beyond for our student-athletes,” K-State women’s soccer head coach Mike Dibbini said. “It is great to have the partnership and collaboration amongst the sports medicine staff to ensure our student-athletes are prepared and healthy to compete at their highest level.”

Led by Director of Sports Medicine Matt Thomason, 18 people fall underneath K-State’s sports medicine umbrella. This includes nine full-time athletic trainers and five graduate assistants, Trausch and two graduate assistant nutritionists in Blaire Wolski and Molly Winkler, as well as Connole, a veteran in sports psychology. 

“There’s obviously some pride in my staff and I think that’s true of what it is. It’s not really about me. It’s really about all of the assistants. They’re the ones who put in a lot of time and their face is not always shown for it,” Thomason said. “We’ve got a really good staff, as good as we’ve had in my 15 years here. Across the board, there are some really qualified people working their tails off.”  

Among K-State’s athletic training staff is associate athletic trainer Mindy Hoffman (football/golf) and assistant athletic trainers in Luke Sauber (men’s basketball), Emily Trausch (volleyball), Simeon Seiler (football), Blaine Burris (baseball), Becca Fitzgerald (women’s basketball/cheer), Casey Carlson (soccer) and Tom Hammett (track and field), as well as graduate assistants Kyle Dorsten, Mayrena Hernandez, Leah Afsarifard, Madison Fabrizius and Brittany Orr. 

“Luke is a tremendous asset to our program. He goes above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the health and well-being of our players,” Wildcat men’s basketball head coach Bruce Weber said of Sauber, who’s been at K-State for five years. “He is a true professional and I can’t thank him enough for his commitment to our program.”

Like many Wildcat coaches, K-State volleyball head coach Suzie Fritz shares a similar appreciation for having a quality athletic trainer on staff. 

“A great athletic trainer is essential to an athletic program’s success. Regardless of sport, they do much more than tend to the physical needs of the athletes. Many people don’t realize the time an athletic trainer has invested in both helping prevent athletic injuries within a team and/or assisting an athlete recovering from injury,” she said. “We’re very fortunate to have someone as talented, capable, smart, hard working and supportive as Emily working with the women on our team. She is an invaluable member of our staff and acts as a caregiver, therapist, friend and advocate in an effort to support their physical, mental and emotional needs. 

“We’re excited that our sports medicine team, and Emily in particular, has been recognized for their hard work and the role they play in our teams’ success.” 

While each segment of K-State’s sports medicine staff serves a specific purpose, all of them work together for a common mission of providing the highest quality of health care to the student-athletes at K-State.  

“Without a doubt, they’re hard-working people,” Thomason said of his staff, which provides medical coverage at every practice and sporting event for K-State. “They want to help people and see them succeed.”

By K-State’s design, an athlete’s road to recovery should not be lonesome. Every part of K-State’s sports medicine team, including team physicians, collaborates to enhance the athletes’ healing process, providing mental and physical support along the way.  

“You have to have all the working parts to really make the injured athlete successful,” Thomason said. “It’s not just a one-person thing.”

Again, this level of support usually requires taking athletes in the valleys of their career and helping them climb back up. While this responsibility may go unnoticed by the masses and be hidden from public view, it’s what Thomason said K-State’s sports medicine staff derives the most joy from. 

“When somebody is at their lowest point in time in their athletic career, young people don’t always know how to handle that. They think the world is ending because they’ve sustained an injury that’s going to keep them from participating and things crash down,” he said. “Everything becomes more difficult — the school life, the social life, and they think, ‘I have nothing to look forward to.’ So you take that person and you start working with them on a daily basis, and then you go watch them accomplish things, whatever amount of time it is down the road. That’s why we do the job, seeing the success.

“If you can get them back to that high point or go beyond, what’s more satisfying than that?” 

Helping pull an athlete out of the depths of injured despair requires adaptability, Thomason pointed out. Each athlete reacts to injuries in different ways, mentally and physically. 

“Every problem is not clear-cut,” he said, “and every solution to that problem is not the same.”

In the world of sports medicine, new treatment methods and technological advancements are always developing. Thomason said his staff strives to become as educated as possible on these new breakthroughs, using a recent example of bringing in an expert on blood-flow restriction, a practice he said could be a “game changer down the road.” 

Another benefiting factor has been the continuity of K-State’s sports medicine staff. The majority of the staff has been at K-State for at least three years, led by Thomason’s 15 years and Hoffman’s 11. 

“With the expectations in the department in what we’re trying to accomplish, the continuity helps a lot. It’s also a demonstration of people investing in the institution and what we’re doing. I think that’s why we’re seeing the success that we are across the board,” he said. “We have people that have invested time, the institution has invested time and so now we’re hitting that point where we can step up to the next level.”  

Additionally, K-State’s most recent facility enhancements, namely the state-of-the-art medicine centers in the Vanier Family Football Complex and Ice Family Basketball Center, have increased the capabilities of K-State’s sports medicine staff. 

“If it’s a positive work environment, obviously production is going to be better,” Thomason said. “One thing we’ve been pushing is ensuring when someone walks through the door, while they might be down, how can we make that change? If we can change that, then we can change their production. If we change their production, then we actually will flip around and change their approach to the situation. All of those changes add up. 

“For a student-athlete to walk into a facility that they’re proud of, that changes their mindset in what they’re going to do for the day. Upgrades have absolutely enhanced our ability to provide and enhance their approach to their daily tasks.”

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